Kristen Leigh Porter, NCAA.com | Postgame quotes
Santa Barbara, Calif. – Nothing beats the first time.
The Akron men’s soccer team defeated Louisville 1-0 Sunday in the NCAA College Cup final, capturing the school’s first championship in any sport in its second consecutive finals appearance. The 9,672 fans at Harder Stadium on the campus of UC Santa Barbara – many backing the Mid-American Conference team from northeast Ohio — constituted the largest crowd since 2004 to witness a championship match.
“It means more than anyone could ever imagine,” said Zips sophomore defender Zarek Valentin, whose older brother Julian led Wake Forest to the 2007 title. “Because it’s that first one, it kind of breaks the ice, and now it gives us and the rest of the student body hope that we can keep progressing in all sports, from football to basketball…to anything else.”
Akron (22-1-2) got on the scoreboard in the 79th minute with a goal from 15 yards out by sophomore midfielder Scott Caldwell, the fifth of his career, all during the postseason. Caldwell, named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player, found the upper right-hand corner of the net after his previous shot was deflected.
“Once I got my first one it just gave me the confidence to keep going forward and looking for more opportunities to score,” he said. “But there’s been some luck involved too – the ball’s been bouncing my way — and that’s what happened today.”
The Zips stopped a shot on goal line in the final minute to preserve the win. Cardinals freshman forward Aaron Horton, who had last-minute game-winning goals in the previous two matches, was cleared by Chad Barson on the second shot.
“I tried to take my chances again and put it in the net, kept it on goal and they made a good save off the line,” Horton said.
Said Barson: “Aaron got the ball and was open and luckily I was able to make a play.”
Akron goalkeeper David Meves and Louisville counterpart Andre Boudreaux were each credited with six saves.
The Cardinals, who were making their first appearance in the College Cup, finish 21-0-3. The last time they were held scoreless was a 0-0 tie on Sept. 22 vs. Ohio State.
Head coach Ken Lolla said the Cardinals’ inability to relieve Akron’s pressure was the difference in the loss. Akron controlled possession much of the game, although Louisville had 15 shots to Akron’s 19.
“In the first half we moved ball very well, created good chances and very well could have been up a goal,” Lolla said. “But in the second half we had trouble keeping the ball, one of our strengths.”
Akron is just the second MAC athletic program to win a championship. (Western Michigan, which joined the league in 1947, won NCAA men’s cross country titles in 1964 and 1965.) The Zips lost to Virginia in a penalty kick shootout (3-2) last season and also fell to Duke 1-0 in the 1986 national championship game.
Akron coach Caleb Porter made two College Cup appearances as a standout player at Indiana. He was also part of four College Cup appearances as an IU assistant – including the 2004 national championship held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., also hosted by UCSB — and one as an undergraduate assistant.
“I would like to have the College Cup here every year,” Porter said. “It’s been good luck.”
For Louisville, making it to Santa Barbara was the culmination of the program’s first 20-win season. The Cardinals were attempting to become the first undefeated champion since Santa Clara accomplished the feat in 1989 as co-champs.
Louisville players earning All-Tournament accolades included Boudreaux, junior defender Austin Berry, senior midfielder/defender Charlie Campbell and junior forward Colin Rolfe. Junior midfielder Jimmy Crick was the winner of the Elite 88 award, given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average at the finals site.
“Our guys have been resilient all season and set a new standard for our program, not just from the standpoint of wins and the achievements on the field, but by who we are and how we do things,” Lolla said.
Making the All-Tournament team for Akron was Caldwell, Valentin, senior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong, junior midfielder Darlington Nagbe, junior midfielder Michael Nanchoff and junior defender Kofi Sarkodie, who was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
Michigan senior forward Justin Meram, whose team lost to Akron 2-1 in the semifinal, was also named to the All-Tournament team.