Senior James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo’s) scored a pair of goals to help lead the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Saint Mary’s on Sunday afternoon in the Northwestern Lakeside Classic.
“We have a very young roster and I think in the early part of the season we have had some very harsh lessons that we have had to learn,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “Credit to Saint Mary’s, they are really hard to play against. They don’t stop working, they are very committed, they have some set piece things that are difficult and they never let us off the hook.
“It was a good step forward for our young group that they were able manage that pressure, play through it at times and create a lot of good chances. Defensively we were pretty solid; on the whole it was a good performance, and a good step forward, for our young group.
Saint Mary’s (2-4-1) created the first chance of the match off a long throw in the third minute with the ball dangerously bouncing in the NIU box before a handball on the Gaels ended the threat.
The Huskies had a pair of chances in the 19th minute.
Sophomore Charlie Oliver (Crystal Lake, Ill./Crystal Lake South) started the sequence down the right wing with a cross to junior Isaac Kannah (Plymouth, Minn./Prairie Seeds Academy). He laid the ball into the path of sophomore Bertrand Gaschot (Austin, Texas/Westwood) for a shot that was blocked and on the rebound Stevenson had an opportunity that went just wide.
In the 32nd minute, Northern Illinois (3-5-0) created another chance as junior Jayson LeSeth (Des Plaines, Ill./Main West) chipped a free kick into the box that senior Sean Totsch (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) got to first in the air. Totsch’s header toward goal didn’t have enough pace and the Gaels were able to clear it from the line.
Two minutes later, Oliver had a good chance. After a Saint Mary’s defender slipped in the box, Oliver pounced on the opportunity and forced a fine save from Saint Mary’s goalkeeper Andre Rawls at close range.
NIU finally found the breakthrough in the 39th minute. The Huskies found junior Dusty Page (Germantown, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) at the back post on an initial corner. Junior Andrew Palumbo (Ft. Myers, Fla./Bishop Verot/Darton College) picked up the second ball and flicked it into the air where Stevenson was first to it, heading home the opening goal.
The goal, Stevenson’s second of the season and 14th of his NIU career, gave NIU a 1-0 lead at the half.
Northern Illinois had the first chance of the season half as Stevenson played a ball in behind the Saint Mary’s defense to Gaschot who forced a save from Rawls.
Gaschot turned provider in the 57th minute, playing a ball to Oliver whose shot was cleared off the goal line by the Saint Mary’s defense.
A minute later NIU doubled its advantage. LeSeth hit a corner toward the back post that Totsch headed toward goal, Stevenson made sure the ball crossed the line, firing it into the back of the net for his third goal of the season and 15th of his career.
Stevenson and Kannah were named to the Northwestern Lakeside Classic All-Tournament Team.
In the 63rd minute, the Gaels had a chance off a corner as the ball fell to Ismail Adam who fired a shot just wide of the post.
The Huskies had a chance to get a third as Kannah played a short cross into Stevenson all alone in front of goal. Stevenson’s touch went just wide and the NIU lead remained 2-0.
Jake Stenberg had a look at goal for Saint Mary’s in the 72nd minute. Off a long ball from the Gael defense, Stenberg’s effort went high over the NIU goal.
The Gaels pulled a goal back behind Bobby Conner in the 76th minute. After a NIU foul, Rafael Sanchez played the free kick into the box where Conner rose highest and headed in from inside the six-yard box.
With Saint Mary’s pressing for a tying goal late, redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Glaeser (Walla Walla, Wash./Walla Walla/Oregon State) did well to get a touch on a header by Connor off a corner for the Gaels. Glaeser was credited with four saves in the contest as the Huskies held on for the 2-1 victory.
Northern Illinois will return to action Saturday, Sept. 28, when the Huskies travel to East Lansing, Mich., to face Michigan State at 1 p.m. CT.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.