The NIU men’s soccer team reported for preseason camp Tuesday with the first on-field workout scheduled for Wednesday.
Coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign, Coach Eric Luzzi is excited to turn the page and start the 2014 season.
“All indications from the conversations I have had with the guys recently have been good,” Luzzi said. “The guys seem fit, seem like they are in a good place. The biggest thing I am excited about is that collectively there is a hunger in this group and I am excited to start with them on the field on Wednesday.
“The reality is that we didn’t have the kind of season we expect last year. It stung, it wasn’t good enough and the guys know that and are ready to make amends for last year.”
NIU returns 13 lettermen, including eight starters, from a season ago, including leader scorer Isaac Kannah (Plymouth, Minn./Prairie Seeds Academy). Kannah was an All-MAC Second Team selection after scoring six goals in 2013 and has scored 10 goals in his NIU career. Other key returnees include
Other key returnees include third-leading goal scorer from 2013 Bertrand Gaschot (Austin, Texas/Westwood), senior midfielder Jayson LeSeth (Des Plaines, Ill./Maine West) who has made 53 career starts, senior defender Dusty Page (Germantown, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) and redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Glaeser (Walla Walla, Wash./Walla Walla/Oregon State) who made 14 starts a season ago.
The Huskie roster also includes 10 newcomers but two of those, defender Taylor Cole (Clarendon Hills, Ill./Hinsdale Central/St. John’s) and forward Chris Paton (Glasgow, Scotland/Uddingston Grammar School), were with the Huskies for the spring and Luzzi will look to his veterans to bring the newcomers along.
“About a third of our team is new and, to be honest, with that stuff I lean a lot on our older guys,” Luzzi said. “The guys that have been around, that know what the standard is, that know what to expect and that have lived it. I’ll lean on those guys to help with the transition because in reality it is their team more than it is my team. I feel confident in the guys in our older classes, in their leadership abilities for this year, so I’m not too worried about that.”
For the first time under Luzzi, the Huskies will spend a portion of the preseason away from DeKalb, spending four days in Indiana. NIU will play exhibition games Tuesday, Aug. 19, at IUPUI, and Friday, Aug. 22, at DePauw, remaining on the road for the time in between.
“American college soccer is so unique,” Luzzi said. “We are the only soccer environment in the world where the preseason lasts a total of 10 to 12 days. Most of the world gets four-to-six weeks, but we don’t, it’s the schedule we have to live with.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a while, it just hasn’t worked into the schedule but I have always wanted to take the guys away from campus for two-or-three days and just have a couple days to accelerate the natural team-building process. I think a change of scenery can accelerate that process.”
Before leaving for Indiana, the Huskies will spend the first week of preseason at home in DeKalb, including an exhibition contest Saturday, Aug. 16, against Western Illinois. Greeting the Huskies on-campus this fall has been a new locker room as the men’s and women’s soccer programs moved out of Huskie Stadium and into new digs in the Convocation Center.
“It’s a huge deal,” Luzzi said. “For the last couple of years we have been in a nice space, but a really, really big space that we have had to share with a couple other teams. It was a nice space, but it wasn’t our space, it was a shared space with two other teams.
“The fact that we now have something that is ours, that we have been able to brand the room with our theme, will hopefully allow our guys to enjoy their experience more and can give us a space to call our own. It’s a big deal and I’m really excited to be able to provide that for our guys.
Following the preseason, NIU will open its regular season slate Friday, Aug. 29, against Hofstra in Evanston, Ill. The Huskies will make their first regular season home appearance Friday, Sept. 12, when they host UIC, beginning a home slate that features a number of premier opponents, including contests with Akron, Marquette, Northwestern and West Virginia.
The first full season with lights has made it possible for the Huskies to attract higher quality home games.
“It’s a massive deal,” Luzzi said. “Obviously conference opponents have to come here every other year, but outside of that it has been difficult to attract good teams to come here when they know they would have to play at three o’clock on a Tuesday or Wednesday. The fact that we can now attract the quality of opponent like Northwestern, Marquette or UIC, teams that will now come to us, it’s a big deal or us, our program and our fans.”
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.