COLUMBUS: The exchange of jersey tops after a competitive match is a ritual in international and professional soccer matches.
It is a sign of respect and shows appreciation for the manner in which an opponent plays.
Four former University of Akron standouts in Major League Soccer have taken part in the postgame fun recently on the pitch at Columbus Crew Stadium.
Ben Zemanski of the Portland Timbers and Ben Speas of the Columbus Crew exchanged jerseys Sunday after the Crew won 1-0. Chad Barson of the Crew and Kofi Sarkodie of the Houston Dynamo traded tops June 1 after a 1-1 draw.
“It’s something I’ll definitely take with me for a long time,” Barson said of the exchange with Sarkodie. “To get my first start in Columbus in front of the home fans, my family and also Kofi’s family. Kofi and I grew up together. We were on the same club team; he always stayed with my family whenever we went away. We’re very close. So to be able to get that first one with Kofi on the other side was very exciting.”
The four players are part of a large contingent that played for former Zips coach Caleb Porter during a seven-year run that produced 123 wins, a national title in 2010 and a national runner-up finish in 2009.
Zemanski and Barson were two of five former Zips who played Sunday in the Crew’s 1-0 victory in Porter’s return to Ohio as the Portland Timbers coach.
Darlington Nagbe and Michael Nanchoff also played for the Timbers, and Wil Trapp made his MLS debut as a member of the Crew.
“Having all these players in MLS says a lot about the area and the talent that is around here and the talent that is built here, whether it be at a club level, a high school level or a college level like Akron is producing,” said Zemanski, a graduate of Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. “It is definitely a good thing to see familiar faces out there doing well and succeeding.”
Trapp, Barson, Zemanski and Nagbe started Sunday. Nanchoff entered the match in the 82nd minute as a Timbers reserve.
“It is a great feeling seeing all these guys, but it was a little weird at the same time,” said Nanchoff, a graduate of Walsh Jesuit. “At one point we were all together in the home team locker room and always winning games together as a team. Now we are in opposing locker rooms playing against each other in different-colored uniforms.”
Trapp said he did not interact with Porter before the game, but the two shook hands and chatted after the final whistle.
“It was awesome to see my parents in the stands, my best friends and my girlfriend,” Trapp said. “It feels great. ... Before the game, I was ready to go. I was focused. From the starting whistle, I was just into the game.”
Copley High School graduate Josh Williams continued to impress Sunday as a Crew defender. He has three goals this season in 17 matches (all starts). He played soccer, basketball and baseball at Copley before playing soccer at Cleveland State University.
Nagbe has played and started in all 18 matches for the Timbers this season, with five goals and two assists.
“He’s a special player,” Porter said. “He was a special player before I found him when he was 15 years old. He was a special player before I got here. If anything I’ve — it’s crazy to say — left him alone. I put him in a good role, gave him some freedom and I just pat him on the back and let him go. I think that’s the best way to manage him. He’s confident. If you put him in the right role and give him a bit of freedom and just let him go, he’s going to perform.”
Zemanski has appeared in 14 matches this season with four starts. He has one goal and two assists. Nanchoff played in his first MLS game this season Sunday. He scored a goal earlier in the year for the Timbers during Open Cup play.
Barson said he is enjoying his rookie season in MLS, which includes eight appearances and seven starts as a defender.
“There’s always an adjustment,” Barson said. “I feel like I came from a good place in Akron, where you understand the importance of winning. It’s certainly a business now, but I feel we had that approach at the University of Akron. Winning was very important. More so developing players in college, but Caleb hammered into us that we needed to win games and get results. That’s made the transition easier.”
Speas, a graduate of CVCA, did not play Sunday, but he has a goal and an assist in 13 appearances this season (nine starts).
Defenders Perry Kitchen and Chris Korb have been consistent starters in the D.C. United with 19 starts and 18 starts, respectively. Kitchen has one goal this season.
Sarkodie has four assists for Houston in 17 starts as a defender. Rookie DeAndre Yedlin has started 12 times for Seattle and has played in 13 matches overall with one assist.
New England rookie midfielder Scott Caldwell and Vancouver forward Darren Mattocks have both played in 12 matches. Caldwell had eight starts and one assist. Mattocks has six starts, three goals and one assist. ... Steve Zakuani of Seattle underwent a sports hernia surgery in June and hopes to return this season. In six starts, he had one assist. He suffered a broken right leg in April 2011. ... Teal Bunbury is rounding back into shape this season and has played in two matches following a torn ACL in August 2012.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ. Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.