Coach Caleb Porter took one final look over the pitch Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
What he saw and heard was not what he envisioned during his final Zips men’s soccer match on the University of Akron campus.
Zips players were dejected and emotional after falling to Creighton 5-4 in penalty kicks in an NCAA Tournament round of 16 match. The teams played to a 1-1 draw after 110 minutes (90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime sessions).
UA’s 2012 season is complete with an 18-1-3 record after earning the No. 1 ranking in the country in all five polls and the fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“There is a lot of pain in that locker room over there, a lot of emotion. I feel the same,” said Porter, who will assume the head coach position with the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer on Dec. 15.
“I don’t think this is anything that we saw coming. I think that shows how much we believed and how hungry this team was.”
Freshman Timo Pitter kicked his penalty kick attempt past UA senior David Meves to send Creighton (16-3-3) to a round of eight match against host Connecticut on Sunday.
Zips senior Scott Caldwell and juniors Reinaldo Brenes, Eric Stevenson and Aodhan Quinn each converted their penalty-kick attempts.
Junior Bruno Castro, senior Andrew Ribeiro, junior Sonny Makh and junior Zach Barnes also made their penalty-kick attempts before Pitter.
The lone miss was by Zips sophomore Wil Trapp, who saw his shot fly over the crossbar after each team made their first three attempts.
“This team has nothing to hang their heads about,” Porter said after hugging Trapp.
“They proved all season long that they were the best team in the country. We didn’t win the game. We tied the game and we lost in penalty kicks. Ultimately, we didn’t find a goal that we needed to find.”
UA held an edge over Creighton in shots (31-11) and shots on goal (10-2).
“It is certainly a hard pill to swallow knowing that this is the last time we are going to walk off that field,” Zips senior Chad Barson said before sitting on the pitch a final time to collect his thoughts.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team and this program that has meant so much to me. I am just thankful for all the people that have been a part of it.”
Brenes, who had missed his past four starts due to a hamstring injury, gave the Zips a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute with his team-leading 11th goal after a pass from Trapp.
An offsides call in the 20th minute negated what could have been Brenes’ second goal after a pass by Quinn.
Pitter found the equalizer in the 83rd minute with a goal.
The Zips almost won the match in the 88th minute with shots near the net coming from senior Tommy Schmitt, Caldwell and Stevenson. Schmitt’s shot was saved by Bluejays freshman Jeff Gal, Caldwell’s attempt hit the crossbar and Stevenson fired the ball over the goal.
In the sixth minute of the first overtime, Bluejays sophomore defender Jose Ribas was whistled for a hand-ball and was sent off with a red card, giving the Zips a one-man advantage. Caldwell took the penalty kick, but Gal slapped the shot away. On the ensuing corner kick, Zips freshman Saad Abdul-Salaam placed a shot off the far post.
Gal was solid in the second overtime too, stopping two Caldwell shots and one Schmitt attempt.
“I am just in a little bit of disbelief knowing that had we done better, we would have advanced,” Caldwell said. “As well as we played, we needed to finish our chances.
“It is disappointing looking bad on this game in particular. Looking back on this season, it was a tremendous season.”
Porter led UA to the 2010 national championship. He compiled a 123-18-17 overall record in seven seasons and a 74-3-9 mark at home.
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 and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.