In 2010, when the University of Akron men’s soccer team won the national championship, Darren Mattocks and Michael Nanchoff reached double figures and scored 44 percent of the Zips’ goals.
In 2012, the last time UA reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Reinaldo Brenes and Scott Caldwell accounted for 43 percent.
The Zips have had one-man shows, with Steve Zakuani in 2008, Mattocks in 2011 and Adam Najem last season. They have had two-man shows, with Teal Bunbury and Darlington Nagbe in 2009 another example.
But what UA coach Jared Embick is trying to develop this season seems rare.
Going into Sunday’s 4 p.m. third-round NCAA game against unseeded SMU (15-2-4) at FirstEnergy Stadium, fourth-seeded UA (16-3-2) has built a five-man attack.
Sophomore midfielder Richie Laryea leads the team with 11 goals, junior midfielder Najem has nine, redshirt sophomore forward Sam Gainford eight and sophomore forward Stuart Holthusen and junior midfielder Victor Souto seven each.
Holthusen is the hottest, scoring six goals in the last four games. Five of Souto’s seven have come on penalty kicks.
The balance gave Rutgers fits in the Zips’ 6-1 second-round victory on Nov. 22, when Laryea and Holthusen both scored twice, Souto connected on a penalty kick and senior forward Sean Sepe, summoned when Gainford suffered a leg injury in the fifth minute, finished off the rout.
“It’s nice. When you’re playing out there, there’s not guys not only marking you,” Laryea said afterward. “If they come tighter to you there’s Stu, Sean, Vic, Adam, Sam, keep going with the guys that can score. You saw today they didn’t have a game plan on who to mark because everyone else beyond front six was dangerous.”
Rutgers coach Dan Donigan said the Zips “in the middle of the park were exceptional.”
“Laryea and Adam Najem, [Gainford] who got hurt early and had to come out, thank God ... you’ve got to make sure you’re firing on all facets, especially defensively,” Donigan said. “You can’t sit back on Akron because they’ll eventually break you down and pick you apart. We didn’t have the physical ability to come out and press them higher on the field, which is what I think you need to do to them to try to be competitive with them.
“They move the ball so fast and so quick, they find the open man, and it’s all because of their movement off the ball. It’s really difficult as a coach to prepare for those guys.”
Embick said when the Zips scout opponents, most teams have two or at best three main threats.
“We have four or five guys, five if Sean gets hot,” Embick said. “We have so many options, that’s why teams have difficulty playing against us. You key on one, you leave space and time for another player to take advantage of. It’s one of those things we’re trying to build with, become a balanced, attacking team with many weapons. It’s starting to come through now.”
Embick said Laryea has drawn the most attention. Against Rutgers, Embick moved Najem deeper and he responded with two assists and had passes not been on the wrong side of teammates, Embick said Najem might have had two more.
“When we played Adam and Richie kind of high next to each other, we got teams early in the year that weren’t able to figure out how to stop both of them in the same area,” Embick said. “Then teams caught on and started to figure out a way. That’s when we adjusted and dropped Adam deeper. If teams now want to stop Adam, that means Richie has more space. With Stu, Sean and Sam all going, that’s just too much for teams to figure out.”
Embick isn’t sure Gainford will play against SMU, calling him “questionable” on Wednesday. Embick hopes Sepe can repeat a string like he did in August, when he scored four goals in two preseason games before suffering a shoulder injury.
The Mustangs come in unbeaten in their last 14 games.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.