University of Akron men’s soccer coach Caleb Porter didn’t know much about Saad Abdul-Salaam when he enrolled on campus last year as a student.
Neither did Zips fans.
Today, Porter and all of “Zips Nation” know who Abdul-Salaam is after he scored the first goal of his collegiate career to help No. 1 ranked UA defeat Northern Illinois 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship match Sunday.
Abdul-Salaam, a 6-foot-3 and 170-pound sophomore reserve forward, captivated the crowd of 2,460 gathered at FirstEnergy Stadium with a strike in the 73rd minute to advance UA to the NCAA Tournament. Senior Scott Caldwell and junior Eric Stevenson assisted on the goal.
“It is just a joy, especially with it being such a big game,” Abdul-Salaam said of his first goal. “My job is to spark the team off the bench and I thought I did a good job of that.”
Abdul-Salaam enrolled at UA in the fall of 2011 and joined the Zips men’s soccer team in the spring of 2012. Zips sophomore midfielder Wil Trapp was a high school teammate of Abdul-Salaam’s at Gahanna Lincoln, and the duo helped their school win a Division I state title in 2009.
“It is just an honor to be here and play for this program,” Abdul-Salaam said. “All of my best friends are on this team.”
UA, winners of its past 14 matches, will find out today where it will be seeded in the NCAA Tournament and when its next match is.
Porter said Abdul-Salaam is a walk-on who was not recruited by the Zips (17-1-2). Porter recalled seeing Abdul-Salaam play in high school, but did not anticipate him joining UA’s team.
“He is very laid-back,” Porter said. “In training sometimes he is casual, and it is frustrating, but because he is confident in the game he doesn’t freeze up.
“His laid-back and kind of casual personality, I think is an advantage for him when he gets into pressure games.”
Sunday was definitely a pressure-packed match against the Huskies (7-10-3). The Zips peppered Huskies senior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey with shots throughout the match, but struggled to score.
Godsey saved nine of UA’s 11 shots on goal. Junior midfielder Aodhan Quinn accounted for the Zips’ second goal in the 75th minute following a pass by Caldwell.
“We have a lot of guys we know we can score with,” Caldwell said. “We have spread out the scoring this year.”
UA held an edge in shots (23-4), shots on goal (11-0) and corner kicks (9-2).
“I thought that in the first half there was a funk in our team,” Porter said. “I can’t point a finger at why that was. We seemed casual. We were able to respond in the second half. When we needed more, we got more. One of the things I have learned over the years when you have a championship type of team when you need more, you get more.”
Freshman Gabe Christianson had the Huskies’ best scoring chance when he placed a shot off the left post in the second half.
Senior David Meves finished with no saves as the Huskies struggled to penetrate a Zips defense that featured senior Chad Barson, junior Robbie Derschang and sophomores Bryan Gallego and DeAndre Yedlin and freshman Andrew Souders.
Caldwell, Trapp and Quinn were efficient at midfield. Stevenson, senior Thomas Schmitt and freshman Dillon Serna consistently applied pressure from their forward spots.
NCAA record set
UA extended its streak of consecutive matches without a conference loss to an NCAA-record 47. The Zips are 44-0-3 since Oct. 6, 2007. Furman held the old standard at 46 between Sept. 23, 1999-Oct. 7, 2003, in the Southern Conference.
“It is pretty neat to break the NCAA record,” Porter said. “We had to win every game this year to do it. It is an incredible feat, but it is not me. It is the players doing the work, they are the ones doing the work. It is a real credit to the focus of the players we have had over seven years.”
Johnny J’s Pub in Merriman Valley will host an NCAA Selection Show Watch Party at 5 p.m. today. Zips players and coaches are scheduled to be in attendance at this free event.
Porter said junior Reinaldo Brenes and freshman Alfred Koroma missed the match due to a muscle pull and the flu, respectively. He is “optimistic” the forwards will return in the NCAA Tournament. … Porter has a 122-18-16 overall record and is 49-2-3 against MAC opponents. … Barson, Caldwell, Quinn and Trapp were named to the All-MAC Tournament.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com.