Sophomore Chris Paton (Glasgow, Scotland/Uddingston Grammar School) scored less than a minute into the second half as the NIU men’s soccer team played to a 1-1 draw against West Virginia in the Mid-American Conference opener Saturday night at the NIU Soccer Complex.
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Glaeser (Walla Walla, Wash./Walla Walla/Oregon State) made seven save in goal for the Huskies.
“This was a very good college soccer game,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “It was the kind of game that happens in conference play. Both teams were up for it, it was intense, chippy in moments, but I also thought there were a lot of moments of really good soccer on both sides.
“On the whole, I think West Virginia was better in the first half, but I was proud of our guys in the second half we were very much on the front foot. We got the goal back really early and that gave us a little spark, it gave us the belief that we could comeback against a very good team and we maintained that throughout the second half and overtime.”
West Virginia (6-5-1) had the better of the play in the early going. A misplay in the back by the Huskies led to a chance for Andy Bevin in the third minute, but Glaeser was quick off his line to deny Bevin the opportunity.
In the 23rd minute, Glaeser was called into action again as Jack Elliott took a free kick from about 25 yards out looking for the top corner, but Glaeser was up to the task.
A turnover by NIU in the 30th minute led to a chance for Ryan Cain as he fired a shot from just outside the top of the box that Glaeser held.
West Virginia got the opening goal in the 38th minute courtesy of Bevin. The Mountaineers attacked quickly off a Huskie turnover in midfield as Mike Desiderio combined with Bevin, his shot from about 10 yards from the right wing beat Glaeser and gave West Virginia the lead.
NIU (2-5-5) created its best chance of the first 45 minutes in the 43rd minute as senior Andrew Palumbo (Ft. Myers, Fla./Bishop Verot/Darton College) cut inside toward goal and unleashed a shot that West Virginia goalkeeper Lee Johnston had to tip over the crossbar for a corner.
After the intermission, the Huskies struck quickly. Palumbo, who had found space down the wing throughout the first half, worked his way toward the end line before whipping in a cross to the near post. Paton was first to the cross, beating Johnston and a West Virginia defender to the ball in the air, heading home to even the match. The goal was the third of the season for the Glasgow, Scotland native.
The leveler sprung the Huskies to life as they were in control for most of the rest of the match.
In the 60th minute, Paton hit a volley from distance that forced Johnston to concede a corner kick. Seven minutes later, Palumbo hit a teasing cross toward the near post that deflected on goal and forced a tremendous reaction save from Johnston.
West Virginia’s best opportunity in the second half came in the 75th minute when Jamie Merriam beat an offside trap and was in alone on Glaeser. Merriam’s shot clipped the heel of the Huskie goalkeeper and the match remained tied.
In the first overtime period, Paton earned a free kick from five yards outside the box and on the ensuing free kick just missed the top corner of the net.
The Mountaineers earned a free kick in a similar position a minute into the second half, but their free kick was blocked by the NIU wall. In the final seconds of the match, the Huskies earned a free kick about 30 yards from goal and Paton again took it. Paton’s free kick had Johnston beaten but went just inches wide as the Huskies and Mountaineers shared the points to open league play.
NIU will return to action Saturday, Oct. 18, as the Huskies travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., to meet Western Michigan. Game time against the Broncos is scheduled for noon CT.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.