Ten home games, including visits from three Big Ten Schools, Wake Forest, New Mexico, and a season opener against Cleveland State with historic implications, highlight the fall schedule of the NCAA champion University of Akron men's soccer team, coach Caleb Porter announced.
The Zips, who won the school's first team national championship in any sport in 2010, will make two trips to the state of California, host the annual University of Akron Tournament and play at Michigan, UC Santa Barbara, Tulsa and St. Louis in 2011. UA will face seven opponents who competed in last season's NCAA Tournament and four who advanced to the Round of 16 or beyond.
"This is one of the toughest schedules we've ever had and it will be quite challenging," said Porter, who is the winningest active coach in the NCAA with a five-year career record of 90-13-10 (.841). "That's what top players want though, and that's what we need in order to continue moving forward as a program."
Three Sweet 16 qualifiers from a year ago are on UA's home schedule, including Ohio State (Sept. 28), Penn State (Oct. 12) and Michigan State (Nov. 2). Additionally, a much-anticipated rematch of last season's NCAA semifinal game against Michigan will take place in Ann Arbor on Oct. 18, while a late-season contest against Wake Forest (Oct. 29) will represent just the third time UA has hosted an ACC school and the first time since 1993. The Demon Deacons, who have qualified for the NCAA Tournament 14 times since 1980, advanced to four straight College Cups from 2006-09 and won the national championship in 2007.
"To win a national championship and to develop professional players, every game is of the utmost importance," Porter said. "It's about growth; and for us to grow individually and collectively, we need as many quality matches as possible.
"We can't lose in the long run with this approach, but it might mean our short-term results fall short. If so, I'm okay with that because I know when we get into the tournament, we will be battle tested and I also know it's what the players need to make it at the next level. This philosophy has worked well and we will continue to play the best teams we can find. This new group is extremely excited and hungry to leave their legacy next fall."
The Zips, who will feature 10 returning letterwinners and four starters from last season's record-setting team, will kick off the campaign with an opportunity to make history against the only team to defeat them a year ago when Cleveland State makes the short trip south on Aug. 27.
UA, which matched an NCAA milestone by extending its home unbeaten streak to 39 contests in 2010, will stand alone in the record books with a positive result against the Vikings.
UA then heads to Northridge, Calif., to compete in the University of Cal-Northridge Tournament. There, the Zips will face Cal-State Fullerton (Sept. 1) and the host Matadors (Sept. 3).
Another away game at Saint Louis, one of the most honored men's soccer programs in NCAA history, follows on Sept. 10. The Zips, who hosted and defeated the Billikens, 4-0, in 2009, will be making their first trip to St. Louis since the 1975 season. SLU won 10 NCAA championships from 1959-73.
From there, the Zips return home to host New Mexico (Sept. 16) and Cal Poly (Sept. 18) in the annual University of Akron Tournament. UA will be looking to avenge a 1-0 setback to the Lobos in Albuquerque from 2008 and will be facing Cal Poly for the first time in program history.
After taking a brief break from mid-week competition, the Zips will return to Tulsa (Sept. 24) for the second time in three seasons. UA earned a 4-0 victory in front of 4,744 fans in Akron before a live-televised audience on Fox Soccer Channel a year ago. Interestingly, after defeating the Golden Hurricane twice in 2009 (once during the regular season and again during the NCAA Tournament), it will be the fourth time the two non-conference schools have met in the past three years.
The Zips will face another familiar foe when intrastate rival Ohio State (Oct. 28), whom Akron played to a 2-2 draw in 2010, comes to town for just UA's fourth home game during the first month of the campaign before opening Mid-American Conference play on the road for the second consecutive season. Akron's contest at Western Michigan (Oct. 1) will be a re-match of last season's MAC Tournament championship game in which the Zips topped the Broncos, 4-0, to capture their fourth consecutive MAC Tournament crown.
UA will then head back to California and the site of last season's College Cup weekend when it travels to UC-Santa Barbara and Harder Stadium for a match-up against the Gauchos (Oct. 5), which will represent just the second time UA has faced UCSB all-time. A three-game homestand is the reward for the Zips' cross-country travels, however, as Northern Illinois (Oct. 8), Penn State (Oct. 12) and Hartwick (Oct. 15) pay visit to wrap up the middle third of the regular season.
A brief road swing to Michigan and Buffalo (Oct. 26) precedes another three-game homestand - representing UA's final home games of the regular season - which gets underway against Bowling Green (Oct. 26) and continues with Wake Forest and Michigan State. The Zips will play their final match of the regular season at Florida Atlantic (Nov. 5).
UA also announced a partnership with Cub Cadet, the premier brand of Cleveland-based MTD Products. Lee R. Jackson Field has been renamed Cub Cadet Field. The stadium was renovated in 2010. It features a state-of-the-art grass soccer field, a field base, drainage and irrigation system, grandstands, stadium seating and an advanced lighting system to accommodate requirements for national media and television coverage.
With more than 40,000 fans flocking to the pitch a year ago, the Zips finished second in the nation in attendance with an average of 3,213. In fact, UA was one of just four schools in Division I (UC Santa Barbara, Connecticut and Cal Poly were the others) to average more than 3,000 fans per game.
2011 University of Akron Men's Soccer Schedule
Aug. 19 or 20 - vs. Duke (Exhibition), 7 p.m.
Aug. 27 - Cleveland State, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 1 - vs. Cal State Fullerton (at Cal State Northridge), 8 p.m.
Sept. 3 - at Cal State Northridge, 10:30 p.m.
Sept. 10 - at Saint Louis, 8 p.m.
Sept. 16 - New Mexico, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 18 - Cal Poly, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 24 - at Tulsa, 8 p.m.
Sept. 28 - Ohio State, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 - at Western Michigan*, 1 p.m.
Oct. 5 - at UC Santa Barbara, 10:30 p.m.
Oct. 8 - Northern Illinois*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 - Penn State, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 15 - Hartwick*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 - at Michigan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 - at Buffalo*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 - Bowling Green*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 29 - Wake Forest, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 - Michigan State, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 5 - at Florida Atlantic*, 7 p.m.
*- Mid-American Conference match
Home matches in bold. All dates and times are subject to change.