Senior midfielder Scott Caldwell scored in the 86th minute as the No. 2-ranked University of Akron men's soccer team concluded the regular season with a 1-0 victory over Western Michigan Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Caldwell’s score came on a double assist from Alfred Koroma and Robbie Derschang. Dershang passed to Koroma, who fired a shot that deflected to Caldwell, who swooped in to finish. It was Caldwell’s ninth goal on the season, second behind Reinaldo Brenes’ 10.
UA (15-1-2, 7-0 in the Mid-American Conference) is expected to move to No. 1 in the nation next week after the University of Maryland (14-1-2) fell 4-2 at No. 18 Wake Forest on Thursday night.
The Zips open MAC Tournament play Friday in the second of two games at 7:30 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium. The championship game is set for Sunday at 4 p.m.
Western Michigan (11-6-2, 3-3-1) needed at least a tie against UA to qualify for the four-team MAC post-season.
UA played without two starters – Aodhan Quinn and Brenes – who were rested with injuries, and lost defender Bryan Gallego, who was hurt in the first half against the Broncos and sat out the final 45 minutes. Yet the Zips outshot the Broncos 23-2, 16-0 in the second half.
Outscoring its opponents 30-1 since Sept. 14, UA is unbeaten in its last 13 matches and has won the last 12.
UA coach Caleb Porter seemed extremely confident after defeating the Broncos. Here’s what he had to say:
“We conclude the first season, 18 games. This team is really playing well. I’m so proud of them. They’ve shown through the regular season, playing the best teams in the country – we have the No. 1 non-conference RPI – that they’re hungry to win and taking care of business. 15-1-2 agains the best teams in the country, 14 shutouts. We’re defending well and we’re finding goals.
"Tonight wasn’t easy. We were playing a team that was playing for a tie. They knew if they tied they were in the MAC Tournament. We knew they would sit behind the ball. Credit to them, they were very organized. First half especially it was tough to break them down. We didn’t get as many looks as maybe we wanted. Made some adjustments tactically at halftime and I thought those things paid off.
"But most of what you saw in the second half was a team that was very urgent to win the game. We had a lot of quality in the second half – 16 shots to 0. The nice thing is we defended well. Every time we lost the ball, we didn’t lose the ball much, we dug in and gave up no counter attacks. The only thing we gave up was a few fouls that they dumped in the box. We talked about doing that. Until we get the goal, we’ve got to make sure we continue to defend well, don’t give up anything on the break, anything on set pieces. We gave them nothing. If we do that we’re going to eventually find a goal somewhere, we’ve got quality players. With our movement, our combination play and our ability to hit you wide with service, with overlaps from the outside backs or getting our wingers isolated, we can hit you right or left channel this year, very balanced. We can also hit you up the middle. Eventually we’re going to find gaps, whether it’s wide, getting around you, either side or knifing you up the middle. Ultimately we found the goal we needed to to win. This team’s done that all season long against some of the best teams in the country.
"We've proven we’re battle-tested, we’re ready for the post-season. Now we start season 2, the MAC Tournament, two games. We need to take care of business, hopefully we get to raise that trophy. Then we move onto the third season, which is the most important season, the NCAA Tournament. I know these guys are looking forward to the post-season. I think you’re going to see a very determined team next weekend.”
Q: How do you feel about possibly being ranked No. 1 next week?
A: “It won’t affect us at all. We want to be No. 1 Dec. 9. We’ve been No. 1 before. We’ve been in the top 5 consistently over the last three or four years. It’s nothing really new. These players expect to be one of the best teams in the country. It’s a great credit to the program and these guys, what they’ve done this year. It’s not often an Akron team gets to be No. 1 in the country. I think it’s only happened a couple times, only in men’s soccer. That’s exciting. But rankings and people’s opinions of us don’t affect us negatively or positively. We believe in ourselves and we believe in what we’re capable of doing.
"It’s more the RPI we’re concerned with. We want to be in that top four, hopefully. If we get a top four (NCAA seed), then we get three home games. That gives us the best possible path to the College Cup. In 2009 and ’10 we had three home games and at home we’re unbeatable. We know if we get home games, it’s going to be tough to beat us. If we have to go on the road, we'll go on the road. One way or another we’re going to get to the College Cup.”
Q: Could you describe Caldwell’s goal. You had so many chances in second half?
A: “They basically had 10 players packed on top of the box, 25 yards from goal. It was the deepest I’ve ever seen a team play against us. Yet I told the coach afterwards it was probably the most organized a team has played against us. In saying that, we also got 16 shots in the second half. It wasn’t like they stopped us from getting chances. We got chances because of our quality.
“Ultimately Robbie got around wide and pulled the ball back and Alfred did a good job of just being strong and kind of holding the ball in there and played it back to Scotty, who crashed the goal. We’re working on getting our attacking guys in what we call hard spots, those tight spaces in between the layers of the back four and the middle four. Most teams are playing a block of eight, very tight, those two layers. Charlotte did that last year against us. Last year we couldn’t find a goal against a team that was really organized and found a way to give up a goal. This year we’re not giving up goals and we’re finding a way to get the goal somewhere. That’s a great thing to know that you can defend well until your attackers can find the goal. We’ve been doing that all year.”
Q: You were missing Brenes and Quinn. Are they OK?
A: “We had two guys who were a little nicked. They probably could have played, bur we want to be smart. We have so much depth this year, it’s probably the deepest team we’ve ever had, and we’ve gone to the bench a lot and played various systems and adjusted our lineups if we’ve needed to and we don’t miss a beat. We’re 15, 16 players deep. We went three deep today. Gallego had to go out as well and there was no dropoff. It’s great going into the tournament knowing if you have injuries or guys who are not performing or if you need a different look, we’ve got a lot of options. Aodhan and Reinaldo we wanted to rest. We suspect they’ll be fine for next weekend. Same with Gallego. We trusted our guys on the bench. We knew we could rest those guys and still get a result. Now when we get them back, we’ve got some tough decisions to make.”