“Playoff Jared” has returned, and the University of Akron men’s soccer team is pumped.
Sophomore David Egbo said the Zips see a different side of coach Jared Embick when they reach the NCAA Tournament, a feat they’ve accomplished in each of his six seasons. It’s not that Embick is less demanding; practices become more intense.
But while this is the time when the 40-year-old shows more of his leadership ability and tactical expertise, he also helps them embrace the fun side of the experience.
Now as they prepare for their third College Cup in the past four years, appearing in Friday’s national semifinal against Michigan State in Santa Barbara, Calif., Embick is on point, but also just as loose as his team.
“Everyone likes Playoff Jared,” Egbo said Monday. “We’ve got Regular-Season Jared, we’ve got Playoff Jared. Everyone’s excited for Playoff Jared because he’s our leader and whatever he says, we do. We feed off his energy. He’s always ready to lead us into games.
“He’s intense, he’s creative in his thinking, just putting everyone on their toes. It’s just a different kind of Jared. It’s fun. We’re doing things we don’t do in the regular season. Everyone is more relaxed, but we’re still focused on the task at hand.”
Embick has compiled a 93-29-13 record, a .737 winning percentage. His victory total is tied with Wake Forest for the most in Division I from 2013-18. But Embick has not seen his team reach the NCAA finals in its previous two tries in 2015 and 2017. Both times it lost to Stanford, the three-time defending champion the Zips eliminated Friday.
Senior Abdi Mohamed, a second-team All-Big Ten player, said he transferred to UA after three years at Ohio State because he wanted to learn from Embick. Senior Marco Micaletto, who graduated from Young Harris College in Georgia with a year of eligibility remaining, did virtually the same. He contacted UA goalkeeper Ben Lundt, his teammate with Reading (Pa.) in the summer PDL league, because of his respect for Embick and the UA program.
“I think he’s a genius,” Micaletto said of Embick. “He’s a person who has completely revolutionized how I see the sport. He’s so much more detailed than I’ve had in the past. When we go into a game, we know exactly what they’re going to be doing. He tells us beforehand and it happens. He doesn’t only understand it, but he’s able to transmit it to the players. I can’t give him enough credit for that.
“His understanding of the game, his intelligence, I’ve never seen anything like it. Details, that’s the main word, details.”
Micaletto also credited the game-planning input of Embick’s assistants, Leo Chappel, T.J. Kolba and Ger Coppinger, all with Embick for at least four seasons.
Senior Ezana Kahsay described “Playoff Jared” as “very tuned in.”
“He understands he needs to bring his ‘A’ game also, which shows us we need to do extra,” Kahsay said. “He’s absorbs the game from the sideline very well and at halftime you know he’s been watching everything. Even before the games he’s very focused on what he’s explaining.”
Freshman Carlo Ritaccio, the vocal leader of the back line, said Embick also realizes there are more aspects to the game than tactics.
“He understands the mental side of the game is very important, the technical side, the physical side. ... He’s a very well-balanced coach who teaches us a lot,” Ritaccio said last week. “As experienced as some of us are, there’s so much more to learn from him.”
Embick is also a master at pushing a player’s buttons, as both Micaletto and Egbo learned.
Micaletto has started just one game since Sept. 20 and came to Embick to ask what he could to do contribute more.
“I said, ‘You’ve been the best player on your team and they kind of cheated you because they let you get away with some things. The intensity level isn’t good enough consistently. If you want to continue to grow, you’ve got to be more intense with and without the ball,’ ” Embick said. “To his credit, he really took that to heart and he’s worked hard. At Stanford, it was his best performance as a Zip.”
Egbo said Embick “transformed” him through twice-weekly talks in the coach’s office this spring.
“He would tell me, ‘We’ve got no one else, you’ve got to step up and prove yourself.’ That’s what I did,” said Egbo, who leads the Zips in points (29), goals (12) and game-winners (6). “He’s helped me understand the game more on the tactical view and be more of a physical presence. He helped me realize what my abilities are and, when I put them into action, I can be a different player. He’s the best coach I’ve played under.”
Egbo said he doesn't believe Embick has gotten his due, still overshadowed by his predecessor, Caleb Porter, who went 123-18-17 from 2006-12. He twice took the Zips to the NCAA finals, winning the school’s only national team title in 2010. Embick was an assistant for six of Porter’s seven seasons.
“Jared has done a great job with this program,” Egbo said. “I know when Caleb left, everyone was like, ‘Akron’s no good.’ This is his third final four in four years. If the players can get him a national championship, that would solidify him as one of if not THE best coach Akron has had.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.