What a devastating end to a wonderful season!
After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, Akron and Virginia faced off on penalty kicks, where the Cavaliers made three compared to the Zips' two.
Virginia held a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead on PKs before David Meves made two great saves to put Akron in position to tie it on the Zips' fifth and final kick. Blair Gavin's shot sailed over the middle of the net, which gave Virginia the title.
I'd like to address some people about this game and the season in general:
Blair Gavin -- You did not lose this game. You missed a shot. It was one second of activity in your life; don't let it control you. Believe that it happened for a reason and trust that something will good will come of this. Zips Nation has your back. Akron missed a lot of opportunities today. It just so happened that you missed the last one.
Caleb Porter -- Rumors have swirled that you are "finalizing" a deal with D.C. United of Major League Soccer. They will probably double your salary and provide unique challenges. Do not, however, underestimate the value of being appreciated. As soon as you join the big leagues, you start getting the big-league criticism. I do believe that you should leave if you no longer feel challenged at Akron. If you are bored, then move on. I don't think any fans would blame you. If it's all about the money (which isn't nearly as evil as it sounds), then you should compare the intangibles and job satisfaction (even job security) that the two jobs provide. I speak unequivocally for all Zips fans in saying we want you to stay badly.
President Luis Proenza -- It is time to invest in this program. It's sad irony that we have one of the best soccer programs in the nation (if not THE best) and it plays at a high school-quality venue in the shadow of a $61.5 million palace for a football team that hasn't broken .500 in four years. The excuse "It's only soccer" is not valid. When more than 4,000 people show up for any event, the university must identify that demand and work to satisfy it. Investing in the program means a soccer facility with at least 4,500 capacity -- one that's designed to take advantage of the AK-Rowdies and their volume. It means paying Porter a salary commensurate with the top college coaches in the nation. The calling card of this university's athletic department should be men's soccer. This IS a soccer school. That hasn't changed over the past few decades. It took a national championship for me to finally realize it. I hope the board of trustees realizes it and does something about it.
AK-Rowdies -- You are an incredible asset to this team. I could sense the players feeding off the Rowdies' energy. Having such strong student support is a unique asset for the Zips. Keep coming out. Coaches commonly thank the fans. It's almost cliche. But you guys truly impact the game. No joke. No cliche. The atmosphere you create also makes the game more enjoyable for the other spectators, too.
Tom Wistrcill -- Put the same focus on men's soccer as you put on men's basketball and football. That means in marketing, in facilities, in seeking donations -- in everything. Generally, the hierarchy of sports goes like this: Football, men's basketball and women's basketball. It's not true here. Like I said, this is a soccer school, and that should be a philosophy that percolates in every major discussion.
I never fully appreciated Meves until the past few weeks. I always figured the freshman was the back end of a phenomenal defense, which wouldn't be giving up many goals even if I was back there flailing at shots. That is not true. As he showed during the penalty kicks, Meves is tenacious, tough and quick. This might seem like heresy, but I don't think you're losing much if you compare him to Evan Bush.
This was an awful way to lose, but I don't feel the pain I expected. Maybe it's because penalty kicks are such a bush league way to determine a national champion (more on that later). Maybe it's because reaching the national championship is such a huge accomplishment that winning it all was only icing on an already-beautiful cake. Maybe it's because these players are all coming back next year (except Ben Zemanski). Maybe it's because this is the first time I've become emotionally invested in the soccer team. I suppose this rambling is me trying to find out why I'm not throwing things around the house in anger.
In the past, the NCAA would declare dual champions when the overtime periods could not settle the contest. Rather, an entire national championship is decided on the basketball equivalent of a free-throw contest. Is it exciting? Sure. Is it the best way to choose a national champion? Of course not. It's half guessing, half nerve-controlling ability, with a little skill sprinkled in. PKs have a place in soccer because you don't want teams playing for 200 minutes when it's likely that the winner will be so beaten up and worn down that they will be little match for the team in the next round. That problem does not exist in the national championship game. I'm not saying that dual champions is the answer. I doubt Akron would feel a whole lot better if that was the case. Declaring dual champions is cowardly and borderline un-American, but to allow this penalty kick charade to determine the winner of a national championship is ludacrious -- I don't care if we're talking about the MLS finals, World Cup, whatever. In a game of this magnitude, the temas should play until someone scores. Period. If it goes a certain amount of time, then give the teams some rest and bring them back tomorrow.
With that said, Virginia earned its victory. I'm certain this was the best team Akron has played. Their defense was quite aggressive. Without some bad luck on their part, Virginia could have easily won in regulation. They had several near goals.
If Porter stays, Akron will be stronger next season. The difficult part to swallow is, the team has to go through another training camp, another nonconference schedule, another MAC schedule, another anxious moment awaiting NCAA seeding, another three-plus rounds of the tournament, another semifinal. Keeping this team motivated during a long season will be next year's challenge. The players already gave their all for six months and saw the dream dissipate because of penalty kicks. Porter's challenge, if he's here, will be giving the team a reason to care about beating the Hartwicks and Cleveland States of the world.
The team will return around 10:30 p.m. tonight to the street between the field house and InfoCision Stadium. If you're in the area, I'm sure the team would be happy to be greeted.