[AKRON MEN] Akron's opponents should watch out. Coach Caleb Porter says the Zips are probably ahead of where they were at the same time last season -- and they went on to have one of the most dominating seasons in men's college soccer history.
Akron matched an NCAA record with 23 consecutive wins last season en route to advancing to the Men's College Cup, where it did not give up a goal but didn't score either.
The Mid-American champions, who led the nation in both goals scored and goals against average, beat North Carolina in a shootout in the semifinals but fell to Virginia in the final on penalty kicks.
The Zips, No. 1 in the Soccer America Preseason Top 25, lost three players who are now starting in MLS -- Soccer America Men's Player of the Year Teal Bunbury, Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski -- but they have everyone else back and welcome a deep recruiting class.
Also back, most importantly, is Porter, who flirted with the possibility of taking an MLS coaching job with D.C. United.
Porter signed a new five-year contract that will keep him on campus through the 2014 season, and Akron announced plans to upgrade Lee Jackson Field, the Zips' home for many years.
Interest is high in Akron, where more than 700 season tickets have been sold for the 2010 season.
The Zips will be led by senior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong, a member of the 2009 Soccer America MVPs first team, and junior forward Darlington Nagbe and junior defender Kofi Sarkodie, both second-team selections.
Sophomore defender Zarek Valentin started for the U.S. under-20 national team when it won the Milk Cup in July.
For the last four years, no one has come close to matching the recruiting job Porter has done at Akron.
This year's class includes freshmen Perry Kitchen, who captained the USA in its opening game at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria and also started on the U.S. U-20 Milk Cup team. Costa Rican midfielder under-17 Reinaldo Brenes and midfielder Martin Ontiveros played together at the IMG Soccer Academy.
Another former U.S. U-17 is defender Michael Balogun, who has transferred from Cal State Fullerton.
The Zips' attack was bolstered with the addition over the summer of a pair of Jamaican forwards Darren Mattocks and Jimmy Tullock.
As pre-season training began, Porter liked how the Zips looked.
"We return a lot of guys with experience from last year so it's a refresher for them – getting them dialed back in with our style and philosophy and putting the pieces back together," he said. "The new guys are learning on the fly because of the short window we have to get ready for the season. But I like the energy and I would say we're probably ahead of even where we were last season at this point in some ways and in other ways a little behind."
Tour the new Lee Jackson Field: