No. 4 WVU suffers first setback at NIU

Gold and Blue Nation

The No. 4-ranked West Virginia University men’s soccer team fell to Northern Illinois, 2-0, on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Soccer Complex in DeKalb, Illinois.

The Mountaineers conceded a 35th-minute goal before the Huskies added a second in the final minutes of the fixture, handing WVU its first loss of the 2021 campaign. It marked the club’s first setback since April 7, 2021, at Akron.

“I think we can learn from the nature of which the game played out,” WVU coach Dan Stratford said. “We were out-competed in the first half. We knew (NIU) would be aggressive and energized for this game, and they showed a greater appetite for it in the first half than we did. We showed some courage in the second half and improved, but again, we haven’t been able to find a goal when we really needed it.”

WVU (6-1-4, 0-1-1 MAC) tallied just one shot in the first half. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois (10-1, 2-0 MAC) brought some early pressure into the final third, forcing fifth-year senior goalkeeper Steven Tekesky into a pair of early saves.

Then, the Huskies opened the scoring in the 35th minute when the hosts pounced on a loose ball inside the box off a corner kick. It was the first time West Virginia trailed at any point in a match this season.

The Huskies led, 1-0, after 45 minutes.

In the second half, the Mountaineers created two scoring chances in the 49th minute, as senior forward Tony Pineda and sophomore midfielder Ryan Crooks each put a shot on goal. Perhaps WVU’s best scoring opportunity of the day, however, came in the 68th minute. That’s when redshirt sophomore defender Bjarne Thiesen nearly tied the game on a shot sent toward the back post, which was shoved away by the NIU keeper.

The Huskies went on to score their second goal in the 88th minute to take a 2-0 lead and close the door on a potential Mountaineer comeback. NIU held a 9-6 advantage in shots on the day, including 6-3 in shots on goal. WVU recorded eight corner kicks, to NIU’s four.

In goal, Tekesky made four saves, while Crooks led the way with a pair of shots, including one on goal.

The loss snapped West Virginia’s season-opening, 10-match unbeaten streak, which was the longest to open a year in program history. Overall, WVU hadn’t lost a match in 12 straight contests, dating back to the 2020-21 season, prior to Saturday’s result. 

“Now, we have to respond,” Stratford said. “It still has been an excellent start to the season, and everything is still in our control. In my experience, these moments of adversity are the best moments to teach. It can be hard to stay process-oriented when you’re winning. So, I hope that we can now get that hunger and ambition back that we had at the start of the season.”

The Mountaineers fell to 5-5-2 all-time against Northern Illinois, including 2-3-1 in DeKalb. The team also fell to 1-1-2 on the road this season.

Next up, WVU continues its four-match road trip by traveling to Western Michigan for its second straight Mid-American Conference fixture on Saturday, Oct. 16, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. ET. 

For more information on the Mountaineers, follow @WVUMensSoccer on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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