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Brad Bournival | ABJ/ correspondent | August 30, 2019

Akron soccer: A talented Zips squad has lofty goals this season

Men's soccer players to watch in 2019

University of Akron men's soccer coach Jared Embick saved quite a bit of money this season on placards.

For that reason, along with the long-standing tradition the Zips have, Embick and Co. are dreaming of getting right back to where they were a season ago when they lost 1-0 to Maryland in the NCAA Division I championship.

Only this time, they have visions of winning the whole thing.

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Although that's everyone's goal, Akron's dream is even clearer with returning starters in Carlo Ritaccio, Daniel Strachan and Marco Milanese on defense, Sam Tojaga, Colin Biros (Jackson) and Skye Harter (Copley) at midfield and David Egbo up top.

Add defenders Pol Hernandez and Declan Watters and midfielder Diogo Pacheco and the Zips have 10 players who played significant minutes in 10 games or more last season.

"Last year, we had a lot of talented players and were really good, but no one really knew each other," Biros said. "This year, everyone knows each other. We know where they're going to be. We know what they want to do with the ball. It's more fun.

"You don't have to go through that process of learning names and what he wants to do when he gets the ball and what he is going to do when he gets the ball. It's just easier and that shows. We look a lot more dangerous and a lot more confident when we go forward with the ball."

There's something to be said for that as the Zips' 3-0 preseason was more about precision and less about team introductions in wins over Evansville, the University of Charleston and Michigan.

The Zips, who open Friday against Xavier on the road, know they have plenty of offense with leading scorer Egbo (13 goals, 5 assists), Pacheco (5, 2), Harter (2, 7), Biros (3, 4) and Ritaccio (3, 0) returning to a team ready to make its third consecutive College Cup and fourth appearance in the last five seasons.

"When you return a lot of goals, assists and quality players, it can give you confidence," Embick said. "We're excited about what we can put together in the attack. It's only going to improve as we go through the season.

"We bring back experience in defense. [Goalkeeper Tor Saunders] is going to be key. Our experience with Carlo and Marco being freshmen is big. Daniel is going to lead the back line and we can form a good unit quickly here."

Having those three defenders back will help solidify the team as Saunders takes over for three-year starter Ben Lundt, who was drafted by FC Cincinnati in January.

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Saunders started for Akron in 2017 against Cleveland State, Notre Dame, SIU Edwardsville and Bowling Green and won all four contests.

"The chemistry is there and that's good," Harter said. "That's really helpful and we're taking advantage of that. That doesn't take away from any of the hard work, fitness and getting back in Akron 11-v-11 shape that we need to be in."

With Egbo, a Hermann Trophy Watch nominee, leading a high-powered offense that includes Harter and Ritaccio, the second-ranked Zips come in with three players named to the Top-100 DI Players to Watch preseason list.

"It's just bringing back the key players from last year," Egbo said. "We're good enough to where the guys stepping in saw how it was. We're trying to have everyone up to speed and become one team. We have a lot of key guys back up front. We just need the guys that haven't played getting us into it again.

"Whenever our nerves kick in we need to play well. We're Akron. Everyone wants to beat Akron. We just have to come out here and play our game. We can't put pressure on ourselves because the pressure on them more."

It's pressure the Zips should be used to by the time the Mid-American Conference Tournament rolls around thanks to a schedule that includes games against No. 1 Maryland (Sept. 13), No. 4 Stanford (Sept. 2), No. 7 Michigan State (Oct. 15), No. 23 West Virginia (Nov. 7) and No. 26 Creighton (Sept. 6).

Only the games against Stanford and Michigan State will come at home, which should raise the level of play even higher.

"We just have to remember that our past success is always going to make things more difficult for us," Embick said. "We have to deal with it by preparation and training hard and staying humble."

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