The bracket for the 2011 NCAA Men's Soccer Championship was released today, and two of the forty-eight teams in the field are from the MAC. Both Akron and Northern Illinois will be hosting home games on Thursday, November 17th. Akron will begin the defense of their National Championship when they take on B1G Ten Regular Season and Tournament Champion Northwestern at 7:30 p.m. Northern Illinois will welcome Summit League Tournament Champion Western Illinois (anyone know what a Leatherneck is?) at 1 p.m.
Ask any Akron fan about the last time that the Zips played Northwestern, and they may get a little disgruntled. In the third round of the 2008 tournament, Akron's home game against the Wildcats was moved to Evanston after the field at then-Lee Jackson Field was deemed to be unplayable by the NCAA (conspiracy?). Although many Akron fans made the trip to Chicago, the Zips gave up a second half goal en route to a 1-0 defeat. While only two current players (Matt Dagilis and Thomas Schmitt) were on that team, it certainly seems like a chance to seek some revenge. Northwestern was 5-0-1 against common opponents this season while Akron finished at 3-1-1. This will be a tight game, and expect coach Caleb Porter to have his team ready for this tough challenge.
Meanwhile red-hot Northern Illinois is coming off of a 1-0 victory in the MAC Championship game over Western Michigan. They have won six of the last seven games and have only given up two goals over that span. The only common opponent is Western Michigan, who NIU beat twice (3-0 and 1-0) and WIU beat once (1-0). This should be an intriguing game as well, especially to mid-major soccer junkies in the northern half of Illinois.
Here are the vitals for the two matchups:
Western Illinois Leathernecks (13-6-1) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (14-5)
Thursday, November 17th, 1 p.m., Northern Illinois Soccer and Track & Field Complex
Winner faces #2 seed Creighton on Sunday, November 20th at 1 p.m.
Northwestern Wildcats (11-4-5) vs. Akron Zips (13-3-4)
Thursday November 17th, 7:30 p.m., Cub Cadet Field at First Energy Stadium
Winner faces #6 seed Southern Methodist on Sunday November 20th at 7 p.m.
*Both could possibly be streamed online at mac-sports.com, but that hasn't been announced yet.
(UPDATE: Reader Evan pointed out that a Leatherneck is a slang term for the U.S. Marines. WIU is the only non-military school that is able to use the USMC crest and anchor and also have a military nickname. That's a pretty cool fact.)