A pair of first-half goals lifted the West Virginia University men’s soccer team over Northern Illinois, 2-0, at the NIU Soccer and Track and Field Complex, in DeKalb, Illinois, on Sunday afternoon.
The Mountaineers (6-3-0, 4-3-0 MAC) got on the board mid-way through the first half with a goal from junior forward Tony Pineda in the 25th minute. Just 15 minutes later, junior midfielder Ike Swiger added on the insurance goal to give WVU the two-score advantage and eventual victory. Pineda was credited with the game winner, his second of the season after recording the game-winning strike in WVU’s season-opening win at Charlotte on Feb. 26.
Sunday’s victory also marked WVU’s fifth clean sheet of the season, as senior goalkeeper Steven Tekesky climbs to No. 4 all-time in shutouts in the Mountaineer record books. The Raymore, Missouri, native tallied a pair of saves against the Huskies to solidify his 19th career clean sheet.
“Today’s performance was very pleasing,” first-year coach Dan Stratford said. “Obviously, this was a big game. We knew that nothing short of a win today would be good enough for us in the MAC standings. There’s some added pressure with where we’ve found ourselves so far in conference, so we knew we had to come here and win. I would’ve taken any type of win, honestly, but the fact that we did it with a quality performance, particularly in the first half, is incredibly pleasing.”
The two teams were quiet up to the halfway point of the first half, as sophomore midfielder Luke McCormick’s shot at the 22:23 mark was the first shot on goal for either team. Minutes later, McCormick dribbled into the box and sent a soft touch to freshman defender Jesus De Vicente as he ran up the left side. De Vicente crossed the ball toward the middle of the box where Pineda squared it up and bounced it off the right post and into the net for his third goal of the season.
WVU didn’t waste much time in tallying another one, as Swiger found the back of the net in the 39th minute. After the back line fought off an NIU attack, the Mountaineers pressed into their final third, and junior forward Josh DiMatteo tapped a high cross toward Swiger who was just inside the right side of the box. Swiger controlled the pass and sent a rocket to the far post, putting West Virginia up 2-0 at the half. The score marked Swiger’s team-leading fourth goal of the season.
After the half, the Huskies’ attack tested Tekesky early with the ball inside the 18-yard box, but they couldn’t manage to get a shot on goal as WVU’s back line cleared it away. Tekesky’s first save of the afternoon didn’t come until the 68th minute when the Mountaineers’ let an NIU forward take a good shot at a score, but his attempt was stopped short by the WVU netminder. Down the stretch, West Virginia continued to limit Northern Illinois’ chances at a score, as the Huskies had a final opportunity in the 88th, but Tekesky was able to secure the clean sheet.
“The biggest challenge coming into today was picking ourselves back up after the disappointment at Akron on Wednesday,” Stratford added. “The guys stood up to the challenge of today’s game incredibly well. We tested them, going into today, to show a really clear, focused, disciplined performance with a lot of bravery and a lot of courage because we knew we had our work cut out for us with NIU.
West Virginia tallied six shots on goal in the win, despite Northern Illinois outshooting the Mountaineers, 11-9. WVU held a 6-4 advantage in corner kick opportunities, and NIU’s Martin Sanchez recorded four saves. With Sunday’s win, the Mountaineers completed the season sweep of the Huskies after they secured a 1-0 victory in the two teams’ first meeting on March 6. WVU now takes a 5-4-2 lead in the all-time series, while Northern Illinois still holds a 3-2 lead in DeKalb.
West Virginia concludes its three-game road swing, as well as its 2021 road slate, at Bowling Green on Wednesday, April 14, with kickoff from Cochrane Soccer Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio, set for 3 p.m. ET.