Dec. 5, 2009

Sidebar: Zips Bid Goodbye To Lee Jackson Field

By John Perrotto
Special to

AKRON, Ohio - Kofi Sarkodie felt like pinching himself. However, he probably wouldn’t have felt it if he did.

Sarkodie scored the game’s lone goal in the 16th minute to lift Akron to a 1-0 victory over Tulsa on Saturday in an NCAA Division I men’s soccer quarterfinal playoff match in 28-degree weather before a record crowd of 4,254 at Lee Jackson Field.

Top-seeded Akron (23-0) advanced to the College Cup and will play fifth-seeded North Carolina (16-2-3) in a semifinal on Friday night in Cary, N.C. It is the second time the Zips have made it to the Final Four as they lost to Duke in the 1986 title game.

Akron also tied the Division I record for most consecutive victories in one season. Indiana set the record with 23 in 1997. Ironically, Akron coach Caleb Porter was a player for the Hoosiers that season.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Sarkodie, a sophomore defenseman from Huber Heights, Ohio. “I came here because I wanted a chance to go to the College Cup. That dream came true today. To be able to score the winning goal in the game that sends us to the College Cup makes it even better. It’s got to be the biggest moment of my life.”

It was just Sarkodie’s third goal of the season. Sprinting down the right side, he took a pass from midfielder Blair Gavin and drilled a shot into the upper left corner of the goal from nine yards.

“I felt I struck the ball really well and (goalkeeper Andy Aguilar) was going to have to make a great save to keep the ball out of the net,” Sarkodie said.

“Kofi is an outstanding defensemen but he is also a threat to come forward in that kind of situation,” Porter said. “It was a great play and a great shot by him.”

Akron controlled play throughout the first half and most of the second half but Tulsa made a spirited rally in the final minutes and almost tied the game twice. However, Zips freshman goalkeeper David Meves made two big saves to preserve his school-record 15th shutout of the season.

Meves stopped Jose Parada at point-blank range with 3 minutes, 8 seconds remaining and Justin Chavez from the top of the box with six seconds left. In all, Meves made three saves.

“I gave it my best shot but I couldn’t get all my power behind it from the position I was in,” Chavez said. “I put it on goal but Akron did a good job of clearing the line.”

“It might not have ended really pretty for us but we hung on and we’re going to the College Cup,” Gavin said. “There is nothing wrong with that.”

The Golden Hurricane’s comeback bid came without the help of its leading scorer, sophomore midfielder Garrett Neal. He suffered a strained hamstring with 30 minutes remaining and did not return.

“It was tough sitting and having to watch the end of the game,” said Neal, who will miss the next two seasons while he serves as Mormon mission in the San Diego area. “Even though I wasn’t out there, we still gave ourselves some scoring chances at the end. It says a lot about the type of team we have that we never gave up.”

Akron outshot Tulsa 12-6, including putting four on goal. Zips senior forward Teal Bumbry, the nation’s leading goal scorer with 17, had three shots on goal but Aguilar turned him away each time.

Tulsa was looking to get to the College Cup for the first time in school history but saw its season end one step short. The Golden Hurricanes also lost in the quarterfinals in 2004 to Indiana.

“We had a plan coming into the game and our kids, for the most part, followed that plan,” Golden Hurricane coach Tom McIntosh said. “We played a good game against the No. 1 team in the country. You have to congratulate Akron because we gave them our best shot and they beat us. They are very talented but also very fundamentally sound. They just have an outstanding good team.”