The University of Akron men’s soccer team will conclude its regular season at 7:30 tonight with a Mid-American Conference match against Hartwick.
The Zips, ranked No. 1 in the country in all five national polls, will attempt to finish the regular season with a perfect record on Senior Night.
I put together a story about the seniors – Ben Zemanski, Stefan Ostergren, C.J. Kaufman and Ivan Sandoval – for Friday’s Akron Beacon Journal sports section. That story, which focuses on Zemanski, can be read in the newspaper or online at ohio.com.
UA is currently 17-0-0 overall and 5-0 in the MAC. The Zips come into this matchup against Hawks (8-2-4, 3-0-2) after defeating Michigan State 2-1 Wednesday night.
In a more intense game than any other this season at Lee Jackson Field, UA coach Caleb Porter shouted instructions and encouragement louder than normal. UA's pep band and Zippy also kept things festive.
Sophomore Teal Bunbury gave the Zips a 1-0 lead with a goal in the 4th minute of an assist by sophomore Darlington Nagbe.
Spartans senior Tim Granaderos tied the score at 1-1 in the 39th minute off of an assist by sophomore Rubin Bega. That was the first goal the Zips had allowed at home in seven games this season and the first time an opponent had scored prior to halftime all season.
With the intensity turned up on the field, Porter turned up the volume from the sidelines and his players responded. Zips freshman Ben Speas and Spartans junior Nosa Iyoha got tangled up on the right side of the box and both fell to the grass. A foul was called on Iyoha and Porter called upon Zips junior Blair Gavin to take the penalty kick.
Gavin scored a goal off of the penalty kick in the 75th minute to break the 1-1 tie and help Zips keep their perfect season going. His shot hit the crossbar and dropped into the right side of the net. He is 4-for-4 on penalty kicks this season.
Quotes from Wednesday night's game:
“We knew it was going to be intense and in all honesty it was a game that we needed. We have not faced many opponents that have tested us, especially when we are defending.”
“We haven't been through much adversity and I think you can tell a lot about a championship-level team in the moments of adversity.”
“I thought in the first half after we scored the goal, for whatever reason we went on cruise control. There have been several games this year where that has happened and an opponent hasn't been able to really punish us.”
“[Speas] drew the penalty kick that ended up winning the game. He got tackled in the box ... he had the defender on his inside hip and he shielded the ball and the guy just kind of hooked him and tackled him. He made himself big and drew the foul, which was a great play.”
“Speas is special because he can get at people and get around people. He got around that guy and that guy had to clip him, that was his last play. The team trusted me to take the PK. My heart sunk a little bit when the ball hit the crossbar, but once it hit that net I was happy.”
“If I hit it well enough, I don't think there is a keeper than can catch up to it.”
Notes from Wednesday night's game:
-- UA will host the MAC Tournament and have clinched the top seed in it. UA will play in a semifinal game at 6 p.m. on Nov. 13. The MAC Championship game is set for 4 p.m. on Nov. 15. The NCAA Tournament, which consists of six rounds, runs from Nov. 19-Dec. 13.
-- The Zips held an advantage over the Spartans in shots (16-6), shots on goal (8-2) and corner kicks (3-1). Speas had three shots on goal.
-- This season, UA has defeated the Big Ten's top two teams (Penn State, Ohio State) and bottom three teams (Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana) for a 5-0 record. The conference's middle two teams (Wisconsin and Northwestern) are not on the Zips regular season schedule. The Zips did beat Wisconsin 2-1 in an exhibition match this season.
-- UA has outscored opponents 47-4 this season. The Zips have outscored their five Big Ten foes — Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — 14-2.
-- The Zips student cheering section, the AK-Rowdies, were heard shouting “I believe we're Big Ten champs” following the game.
-- Speas starting in place of sophomore Michael Nanchoff, who was held out of the game due to an injury and the flu. Porter expects Nanchoff to be back in the lineup soon.
-- Junior Chris Korb, sophomore Kofi Sarkodie and freshmen Zarek Valentin and Chad Barson were the Zips’ starting defenders in front of freshman goalkeeper David Meves. Sophomore defender Matt Dagilis entered the game as a reserve.
-- Zemanski, Speas, Gavin and junior Anthony Ampaipitakwong were solid at midfield for UA. Freshmen Yoram Mwila and Scott Caldwell contributed as reserves.