If I may editorialize for a bit, I think Stu Riddle is outfoxing the rest of the MAC right now. I've said since August that I think it's a postseason-or-bust year for UB to gain experience for next year when the Bulls are entirely upperclassmen, and Riddle built a schedule this year that gives his team the best chance to do that.
UB was the only team not to play a match on Tuesday or Wednesday prior to their Friday MAC opener. They were the only team not to play on Tuesday prior to their second match against West Virginia. They're the only team this weekend who will be coming into Saturday's conference matches on a week of rest.
Following each strong performance against Akron and WVU, Riddle referenced in postgame videos the team's full week of preparation between matches. We saw two very different strategies against each, and I'd imagine a slightly different one this week. Riddle deliberately gave himself as much time to prepare for these critical games as possible, and through two, at least, it's working.
Northern Illinois (7-5-1, 1-1-0 MAC)
Saturday, 24 October; 7:00 PM
Huskies Player to Watch: Sophomore D Luke Read
Read is NIU's leading scorer, with five goals, but those are all coming from a defender, and four off set pieces. (The fifth came from a "long throw in." At least three have come in the final minute of regulation or a second overtime. I'm not sure how much of a playmaker he is, and Buffalo has the speed and technical ability to capitalize on a quick counterattack should NIU press too far forward, but UB will definitely need to watch Read on set pieces and late in the game.
On a more team level, this could be a big win for the Bulls. At face value, it looks good: NIU got trounced by Akron after trying to run with them and of their seven wins six have come by a single goal, and four in overtime. By comparison, five of UB's six wins have come by two goals, and one by six.
Furthermore, NIU hasn't scored a goal in ten days, while Buffalo's Joseph Kuta has three shutouts in his last four games. The Huskies have scored only 14 in twelve games to UB's 25 in 14. Really the only thing going for them is they beat Bowling Green, but the Falcons are in a serious tailspin.
Road matches are hard. The goal is to get a result. If Buffalo can - even a single point from a draw - they'll be in pretty good shape with two games to play. A win is wholly possible (Buffalo controlled last year's matchup much better than the 2-1 score shows), and with that we might start talking about UB's chances for the #2 seed. I'll save that, though.
Around the MAC
I broke down our rooting interests in a post yesterday, linked in the sidebar above. The sample size is always small in soccer, but considering how well Buffalo played against WVU and the Mountaineers' win over WMU, UB looks in OK shape. At this point we're kind of in 'take care of business' mode.
Russell Cicerone leads the MAC in goals and points, and is second in assists. Joe Kuta is second in goals against average and save percentage, while leading in saves per game.