The University of Akron soccer team worked the ball with the patience of a monk in their Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal Friday night at FirstEnergy Stadium to earn a spot in the title match with a 2-0 victory. The Zips play Sunday against Northern Illinois for the championship.
Facing Bowling Green (8-9-3), the Zips (16-1-2) dominated play throughout the semifinal match, keeping play focused on the Falcons’ end.
That patience looked as if it could go unrewarded. It soon became an abundance of riches, however, as the Zips struck quickly and in succession.
Sophomore midfielder Wil Trapp scored his first goal of the season straight on from 30 yards out off an assist from Scott Caldwell.
“I’ve been working on shooting from outside in training and coach has been helping me out with that. It was kind of a nice thing to have, especially with the first goal ending up like that. It was definitely nice,” he said.
Moments later, Caldwell and teammate Saad Abdul-Salaam collaborated on an assist that ended in the second goal of the season for Thomas Schmitt.
The two first-half goals were all they needed in the 2-0 victory. Still, coach Caleb Porter wasn’t happy.
“While I’m pleased with the win, I’m not satisfied with the performance,” he said. “That’s a good thing because that means there is still an upside with this team. We leave here knowing that it has to be better if we’re going to make a run for the national championship.”
As dominant as the Zips played offensively, they were even more so defensively, allowing the Falcons just one shot on goal and no corner kicks in the match.
It allowed the Zips to move on to their fifth appearance in the tournament finale in six seasons, having lost to Western Michigan in the semifinals last year.
They will face the Huskies, a team they beat 2-0 earlier in the season. Northern Illinois moved to the final after beating West Virginia 1-0 earlier Friday.
Porter said that the Huskies likely won’t get an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, making it a necessity for them to win the MAC championship.
“They got themselves here, and they look like a team that’s on a mission hopefully to get an automatic berth,” he said.
It’s a familiar spot in MAC Tournament play for the Zips, he said, but NIU is a mental challenge.
“They look very motivated [with] good team chemistry,” he said. “They play more of a direct style. It’s disruptive. We’ve never had a good game against them. There have been times when we’ve not played our style. We have to deal with the way they play and not lose our identity.”
What was unfamiliar, however, was watching NIU play the Broncos in the tournament final on the Zips’ pitch last year. Porter called it one of his toughest moments as Zips coach to watch another team celebrate there.
“Obviously, I wanted to be here to support the two teams in the conference, and yet it was very difficult for me to watch that game,” he said.
The Huskies won the championship without having to face the Zips last year.
“Now we’ll see who the best team is this year,” he said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.