Akron won its first national championship
Concluding the third year of dominance of the soccer world, the Zips climbed the last rung of the ladder and earned the university's first team national championship. It was a team that brought the community together and deserves to celebrate its great feat.
Now it's time to be realistic. Akron won the title in a game, and an NCAA Tournament, in which the team received some serious luck.
The Zips executed two improbable foot saves in the last minute -- one by David Meves, and the other by Chad Barson, who just happened to be positioned between Louisville's striker and the back of the net and whose foot just happened to deflect a point-blank goal opportunity.
The game's lone goal was off a scramble following a corner kick. The ball found Scott Caldwell, who had the national championship goal fed to him on a platter. Unlike Louisville's striker, Caldwell deposited the ball into the net.
Louisville missed out on two sure-fire opportunities in the first half. One ball bounced off the post. On the other, the refs missed a hand-ball call in the box.
But Akron is the last team that needs to apologize for its good fortune. This team, this program, and these fans deserve it. For the past three years, Akron has been the undisputed best team in the nation, only to be screwed by NCAA or lose on penalty kicks.
And this is also a victory for a principled coach. Unlike Caleb Porter, Ken Lolla left the University of Akron, his players and its fans for more money. Porter turned down an offer to be a professional head coach to stay at Akron. He was rewarded by a victory over a predecessor who took his talents to Louisville.
It might take a while for this to sink in. The first step of that for me was when my dad (mostly ignorant on college sports, but an Akron grad) asked: "So wait. Louisville is Division One?" Me: "Yes." Dad: "So all the other teams like Ohio State and UCLA are gone?"
It is an illustration of what this could mean to our alumni if properly publicized. Why support a bigger university when, if receiving adequate support, YOUR alma mater can do great things? Hats off to the AK-Rowdies who traveled to Santa Barbara, Calif., on what much be, in many cases, meager budgets.
Fans should treasure tonight because, even if Porter stays for another 10 years and even if the team retains its dominance, winning a national championship in soccer must be one of the most luck-driven accomplishments in college sports. Once you get to the last few rounds, playing an error-free game takes a higher priority. It's that rare moment where a defender loses focus that a forward can sneak past and change the history of his soccer program.
Cherish this because it could have been different.
Cherish this because it HAS BEEN different in the past. Do you remember picking your jaw off the floor when Blair Gavin's penalty kick sailed over the net a year ago? Or when the NCAA stole Akron's home-pitch advantage, providing Northwestern a big advantage?
Cherish this because it is a great accomplishment for Porter, a fantastic leader with off-the-charts character, charisma and perseverance.
In the next few days, a lot of University of Akron alumni will be chatting about this great achievement over the water cooler. If you are one of those casual fans, take this opportunity to step to the next level. Bookmark this blog, and ZipsNation.org (the unofficial message boards), and GoZips.com (the official university site) to keep up on the daily news.
Fans support is one area where the University of Akron lacks. With the hundreds of thousands of local alumni, it doesn't have to be that way.
Stay tuned for more news from Marla Ridenour in Santa Barbara and Michael Beaven at the celebration downtown.