Coach Caleb Porter explained after the University of Akron Zips fell out of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament on Sunday evening, coming up short on penalty kicks to Creighton: “I don’t think this is anything that we saw coming.” Hard to disagree in view of the team losing just three games in seven years under Porter when the Zips scored the first goal. Add the team’s top ranking and formidable record at home, and the result was stunning, especially with the Zips buzzing around the goal in the flow of play, hitting the frame and otherwise just missing on numerous occasions.
Porter added another explanation: “That’s soccer.” You wonder why goals are so celebrated in the game? They are tough to get.
Soccer can be most cruel, and it was for a Zips team that seemed determined to write a perfect ending to a challenging yet such a rewarding season. The coach and his players handled with grace and purpose his announcement in August that he would be leaving at the end of the season for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. They appeared to put everything in the right perspective. Nothing would distract.
In its way, this performance, too, proved revealing of all that Porter and his players have built. Scott Caldwell and Chad Barson played their last game. Each will be remembered for his feats in winning the 2010 NCAA championship game. Yet what has been most evident is their growth as players. The same goes for the record-setting goalkeeper, David Meves, and forward Thomas Schmitt, challenged and then responding by getting better.
How splendid it would have been to return to the College Cup. That is the standard Porter and his teams long have set for themselves. So there is much disappointment — and yet in time the joy will prevail at all they have achieved, 18-1-3 this season, playing the game with daring and precision, raising the bar high for those who will follow.