When University of Akron soccer coach Caleb Porter was recruiting goalie David Meves, he told him he would begin looking for his replacement during his junior year.
Meves might not have envisioned then that Porter would lure the nation’s top recruit at his position to a Zips program that has reached the College Cup in two of the past three years.
Meves has played an integral part in that success, setting the UA mark with 66 career victories. In his three years, the native of Arlington Heights, Ill., has played all but 210 minutes (120 of that coming when he was subbed out of blowouts)and enters this weekend with the lowest goals-against average (0.541) in school history and is second in shutouts with 39.
But when practice began for his senior season Aug. 8, Meves found himself challenged by freshman Fernando Pina, a Houston resident who was one of the leading keepers on the U-17 national team.
Pina seems to have provided the push Meves needed. The seventh-ranked Zips (1-0) take on No. 2 Creighton and SIU-Edwardsville on Friday and Sunday in the Ameritas Classic in Omaha, Neb., and Porter said Meves is “playing as well as I’ve seen him play in his career.”
Meves, 22, has also been inspired by the Aug. 5 death of Kirk Urso, a rookie midfielder for the Columbus Crew, whom he had known since they were 9.
“It always gives you a little extra motivation when you know there’s someone who can take your place,” Meves said in reference to Pina after practice earlier this month. “Even without that, you’ve got to come out and prove yourself every day.”
Porter said Pina’s arrival “has been a good thing for Meves.”
“His freshman year, when he had his best year, he was challenged,” Porter said. “We had another goalie, Josh Pantazelos, [and] those two guys battled it out. He seems to be at his best when he has competition.
“The last two years I think he got a little comfortable and we really didn’t have a backup that would take his job if he wasn’t playing well.”
Meves’ saves percentage, which new goalkeepers coach Stuart Dobson considers the most important stat, illustrates Porter’s point. As a freshman, Meves’ percentage was .875, sixth in Division I. In 2010, when the Zips won the national championship, it fell to .771 (87th), in 2011 it was .770 (79th).
“There’s probably some times where David has taken some things for granted,” said Dave Richardson, who coached Meves for years at Sockers FC in Palatine, Ill. “He’s had some success, but maybe he hasn’t applied himself 100 percent all the time.”
Meves is No. 1, but Porter and Dobson rave about Pina.
“He’s got lightning-quick reactions. And his distribution, he’s a typical Latin goalkeeper,” Dobson said of Pina. “His shot-stopping ability in close to his body and his reflexes, he probably has the edge to Meves. But Meves can cover a lot more of the goal, he’s a big guy.”s
Pina and Meves are “polar opposites” in style, Porter said.
“Meves has very good positioning, reads the game well, plays the angles,” Porter said. “Pina is a guy who flies around the goal. He’s more of a South American-type, a guy that’s quick off his line, a guy who’s definitely looking to be proactive, to come for crosses.
“Meves plays it safe. Meves is a guy who makes the saves he should make. Over the years, we’ve felt at times he could extend his range a little more and maybe make some of the saves that aren’t in his wingspan. We think long term — and obviously long term works well because Meves is done after this year — Pina is a guy that maybe fits our style. But it’s nice to have a goalkeeper like Meves who is so steady, stable, and you know what you get out of him.”
Reportedly mulling a job offer to coach the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer, Porter went so far as to suggest that he could play both Pina and Meves late in the season depending on the style of the opponent.
“It will be interesting to see as the season goes on and Pina starts to settle in and close the gap and plays with more consistency,” Porter said. “If that happens, I think it might be a situation where one game we’re looking for something different.”
Meves will graduate in December with a degree in corporate finance. He hopes for a chance in MLS, but is focused on making another run at a national title.
Quiet and laid-back, Meves does not sound disappointed that the coaches did not select him as a captain. Seniors Scott Caldwell and Chad Barson and sophomores Bryan Gallego and Wil Trapp were chosen.
“That’s not necessarily my personality,” Meves said. “I couldn’t be happier with who we’ve got leading us.”
But he’s making an effort to help. Even in the first exhibition game against St. Louis, Meves came out of the box to instruct some of the freshmen.
“He’s never going to be a guy who’s real vocal, but he’s finally grasped the idea of being a leader,” Porter said.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.