Sophomore Richard Hall (Billericay, England/The Billericay School) scored off a corner kick for the second time in three games, but the NIU men’s soccer team fell to Akron, 2-1, on Saturday night at the NIU Soccer Complex.
Hall’s 78th minute goal pulled the Huskies level but a penalty kick in the 83rd minute gave the Zips the victory.
“I thought it was a pretty good 90 minute performance,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi.
“There are not many teams in the country that play like Akron does. They have a really big shape, they are all competent on the ball, they try to spread you out and it took us a while to build the confidence that we could play with them. After the first 15-20 minutes, I thought our guys performed amazingly well,” Luzzi added.
“They gave a warrior’s effort, every single guy that played … I’m crushed for them, with the result, but I couldn’t be prouder of them for their performance.”
Akron (10-5-1, 3-1-0 MAC) held more of the possession throughout the contest, but the Huskies made the most of their time on the ball. In the 16th minute, a turnover by the Zips led to combination play through midfield and a shot from distance by freshman Len Heinson (Wuppertal, Germany/Carl-Fuhlrott Gymnasium) that went high.
Just a minute later the Zips took the lead on a goal by Sean Sepe. After winning a free kick to the left of the NIU box, the initial ball was played across and headed back out of the six-yard box. Sepe claimed the second ball and took a shot from 12 yards that took a deflection and found the back of the net. NIU goalkeeper Andrew Glaeser (Walla Walla, Wash./Walla Walla) dove to stop the original attempt and had no chance to recover to the deflection.
In the 25th minute, Akron worked down the left side through Sam Gainford. His low shot was tipped off the post by Glaeser and the Huskies were able to clear the danger.
Eight minutes later Gainford hit the woodwork again, skimming a shot off the top of the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Glaeser made an excellent save in the 37th minute as Richie Laryea had an opportunity inside the box but the Huskie goalkeeper stood strong to stop the shot.
Less than three minutes before the half, Sepe rang a shot off the crossbar as combination play by the Zips off a throw-in led to the chance but Akron took just a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
After the interval, NIU (3-8-5, 0-3-1 MAC) started to create chances. In the 47th minute, Heinson rose highest to meet a header and the back post. His header came back across the face of the goal and was cleared off the line by an Akron defender to keep the Zips in front.
In the 57th minute, Glaeser was sharp again, making a diving save on a shot by Sepe. Two minutes later, Akron goalkeeper Jake Fenlason was called into action, stopping a shot by Heinson off a free kick from 25 yards out.
Heinson and senior Andrew Palumbo (Ft. Myers, Fla./Bishop Verot) connected through midfield in the 60th minute and Palumbo got inside the box for a shot that was saved by Fenlason.
Sophomore Daegan DeBono (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer West) made a strong run from his wide position in the 65th minute and Fenlason again had to make a stop.
The Huskies finally got their equalizer in the 78th minute. With a crowd of Huskies and Zips inside the six-yard box, Hall whipped in a corner kick and went off the hands of the Akron goalkeeper and into the net to even the score, 1-1.
Hall’s goal was his second of the season; he also scored from a corner kick against SIU Edwardsville on Oct. 22.
In the 83rd minute, Akron’s Stuart Holthusen went down in the box and the referee point to the penalty spot. Adam Najem stepped up to take the penalty kick and slotted it to the right of Glaeser as the Zips reclaimed the lead, 2-1.
With the Huskies pushing numbers forward looking for another tying goal, Glaeser made a trio of spectacular saves in the final five minutes as Akron claimed the victory.
The defeat, coupled with other conference results on Saturday, eliminated NIU from contention to qualify for the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The Huskies will conclude the season Saturday, Nov. 8, as they host Bowling Green. Kickoff against the Falcons is scheduled for 6 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.