The University of Akron men’s soccer team looked just like a No. 1 seed should in a conference tournament Friday.
UA played aggressively, and showed the creativity and skill of a team ranked eighth in the country in defeating No. 4 seed West Virginia 3-0 in a Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal match.
A crowd of 1,677 at FirstEnergy Stadium witnessed the Zips’ first three-goal match this season.
Senior forward Eric Stevenson scored twice and senior midfielder Aodhan Quinn scored once to advance Akron (15-3-1) to the MAC Tournament final at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“We just saved it for the playoffs,” UA coach Jared Embick said with a smile. “We had it in us all year long, it’s just sometimes you finish goals and sometimes you don’t.”
Akron will face No. 2 seed Western Michigan (9-8-1), which defeated No. 3 seed Hartwick (5-9-4) in Friday’s opener 1-0.
“I am happy with the performance,” Embick said. “I thought we were excellent, especially after we settled down in the first half. From there on until we got up 3-0 was some of the best soccer we have played. It is at the right time and we are going to keep moving forward. We will put it in perspective because we have a job to do on Sunday.”
Akron quickly asserted itself against West Virginia (7-7-5) and held an edge in shots (22-9), shots on goal (7-2) and corner kicks (5-3).
Stevenson scored his first goal with 18 seconds remaining in the first half following a pass from freshman midfielder Adam Najem.
“We just had an overload with about a minute left in the first half and Addy set it in,” Stevenson said. “I just hit it. It definitely gave us a lot of confidence going into the second half knowing we were a goal up.”
Quinn, who was named the MAC Player of the Year prior to the match, scored his goal in the 58th minute with an assist going to Najem and senior Zac Portillos.
Stevenson’s second goal came in the 66th minute. Junior defender Saad Abdul-Salaam and Najem each had an assist.
Stevenson started at forward with seniors Reinaldo Brenes and Robbie Derschang. Quinn and freshmen Najem and Victor Souto were solid in their midfield positions.
UA junior Bryan Gallego started as a defender, but left the match after seven minutes following an apparent elbow to the throat. Sophomore Andrew Souders subbed in and played with starters Abdul-Salaam, Portillos and freshman Louis Cross.
“He has a bruised larynx,” Embick said of Gallego. “I think he will be fine.”
Embick said Gallego is questionable Sunday.
Zips redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Jake Fenlason made his collegiate debut in place of redshirt freshman Fernando Pina and made two saves.
“I thought he was great,” Embick said of Fenlason. “We threw him into a playoff game for his start. I thought he handled himself well. He managed his nerves and played confidently. He got into this because he has been training hard and doing very well in training. There comes a point in time where you have got to look at every position. Fernando is a very good keeper. He is young and he has played a lot of games. I think it’s the first time around, and I don’t know if he is worn down, but he hit a little slump, so we went with Jake. He has been a little bit more confident and better in training.”
West Virginia’s best scoring chance came with 9:40 to go in the second half when sophomore Ryan Cain attempted a penalty kick, but his shot was wide left.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.