The number of shots said dominance, but the score said something else early on as the University of Akron defeated Florida Gulf Coast in its season opener in front of a huge crowd at UA’s FirstEnergy Stadium on Friday night.
The 10th-ranked Zips kept the Eagles playing defense for much of the match as they kept the ball moving to claim a 4-0 win.
“They’re an experienced team, and [coach] Caleb [Porter] does a great job keeping them focused,” Eagles coach Bob Butehorn said. “If you’re going to beat a team like Akron you have to take care of the ball, and we didn’t take care of the ball.”
However, the Zips struggled offensively in the first half before the scoring caught up with their defense. Junior Eric Stevenson scored the first goal in the 20th minute.
They endured a couple of close calls to nurse that lead through to the second half. Translation: a little breathing room might have been nice.
They couldn’t breathe until the 57th minute when Stevenson found teammate Thomas Schmitt lurking near the goal for a score from 15 yards out, giving the Zips a 2-0 lead. From there, the rout was on.
“That was huge. I was concerned,” Porter said. “If you give a team life and let them hang around with you, they think they can play with you, and anything can happen. That happened to us several times last year. We wanted to have a good start to the second half to put the team away and I thought the guys did that.”
Stevenson agreed with his coach.
“We wanted to get the second goal because obviously it was the big turning point,” he said. “With that goal, I think it kind of took the edge off the game — kind of killed the game off a little bit.”
For added insurance, the Zips added a goal on a header from junior Aodhan Quinn in the 63rd minute after he had entered the game just seconds before. Senior Scott Caldwell followed with a goal off of a crossing pass from junior Robbie Derschang, giving the Zips the 4-0 lead.
That should have demoralized the Eagles, but the Zips had already taken care of that with their play throughout the match. Facing a nearly impenetrable defense, Gulf Coast found the going tough until the very end.
It just took time for the Zips’ offense to catch up.
Goalkeeper David Meves wasn’t tested all match, giving up no goals and ending the game with no saves.
“Overall, I think we have to be pleased with the result,” Porter said, “[but] there’s a lot to work on.”
Bryan Gallego, an All-American freshman last season, left the game with an injury in the 41st minute of the first half. … Coming into the game at No. 10 in the preseason rankings, the Zips won their sixth consecutive season opener. … They are 6-1 in openers under Porter. … Attendance was 4,440, the fourth largest in school history.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. 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.