Dec. 13, 2009

By Roger van der Horst
Special to

CARY, N.C. — As much as losing the championship game on penalty kicks hurt Akron, the Zips have good reason to think they'll make their second straight College Cup appearance in 2010, when the final four of men's soccer will be played at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Akron's 25-man roster includes four seniors, only one of whom — midfielder Ben Zemanski — played regularly.

"Akron has to be considered," said Charlie Slagle, the College Cup's co-director this year and chief executive of the Capital Area Soccer League, based in Raleigh, N.C.

As Slagle noted, a lot depends on which collegiate players will leave early to enter the Major League Soccer draft or play professionally overseas. Akron's top striker, Teal Bunbury, may be facing a decision in that regard, though he wouldn't discuss it during the College Cup.

There also has been speculation about the future of Akron coach Caleb Porter, who led the program to its first championship game in the sport. Among the teams seeking new coaches is Indiana, where Porter played soccer and served as an assistant coach.

Porter, 34, tried to put the issue to rest, for the time being, during a pre-final news conference Saturday.

"I've been contacted, yes, by Indiana. I've already made a statement that I'm not interested," Porter said " ... I love this team. I love being in Akron. My wife does as well. The administration is committed to our program. The alumni are behind us. The community is behind us. I have not thought or talked with anyone else whatsoever."

As far as Porter is concerned, though, the "last piece" he needs to keep the Zips in national contention on a regular basis is a new stadium to replace aging Lee Jackson Field.

The school's president, Dr. Luis M. Proenza, said Saturday that the buzz created by the team's Cup run provides an "incalculable benefit" to Akron and that a new soccer stadium is "clearly our next project."

The Atlantic Coast Conference should be strong again next season, Slagle said.

"They just keep reloading," he said. " ... Wake Forest was awfully young, so they have a chance to be back for a fifth straight (Cup). North Carolina just keeps getting better. Virginia. Maryland, I think, will be back."

Slagle went on to note that the College Cup being held at UC-Santa Barbara will pump up the host school and others on the West Coast, such as UCLA, to get there.

John Bluem, Ohio State's coach and a member of the Division I men's soccer committee, certainly hopes so.

"In my mind, I hope there's a West Coast team that makes the final four. I think that will be important for the event," Bluem said.

UCLA eliminated UC-Santa Barbara in the third round this year, and Wake Forest sent the Bruins home in the quarterfinals.

During the off-season, NCAA men's and women's soccer officials will deal with the question of whether to conduct a joint championship the same weekend, and the respective committees might recommend sites in February for a three-year experiment 2011-13.

Cary and other local officials have made clear that the town of 137,483 will bid on a joint championship for at least 2011 and 2012 — the women's College Cup will return here next year — and would like to become a permanent host site.

"It's a good venue," Bluem said of WakeMed Soccer Park, which seats 7,000. "If you stayed here on a permanent basis, it could probably be improved and expanded ... but you're always at the mercy of weather wherever you go this time of year, and Cary hasn't had the best of luck with the way the weather has been. That makes it difficult. It's not like it's really far north right now, but it's still questionable."

As for the possibility of a joint men's and women's championship weekend, he said, "I think it's a good idea that needs a lot of studying and evaluation."