[MEN'S COLLEGE CUP] A year after its undefeated season ended in heartache with a shootout loss to Virginia in the Men's College Cup final, Akron came back and won its first national championship. It took a goal by Scott Caldwell in the 79th minute and some desperate defending in the last 90 seconds, but the Zips prevailed, 1-0, over top-seed Louisville, leaving Coach Caleb Porter almost speechless.
"I am proud of my team," said Porter. "It's been a long journey. It started Dec. 14 after a bitter, painful loss to Virginia last year, which ended on one kick. For these guys to recover from that; move on and work even harder is an absolute tremendous credit to these guys. They have been hungry all year; dug deep, kept going, kept fighting and refused to lose."
Only once did the Zips lose -- an improbable 2-1 loss to in-state rival Cleveland State -- in 2010. And their wins included shutout victories at North Carolina (3-0) and Wake Forest (2-0) on the first weekend of the season and a 7-1 victory over Michigan, which they'd meet again in the semifinals.
"This team has a rare combination of talent and winning qualities," said Porter. "When you put the two together, it's a powerful thing. That's why we won the national championship -- the combination of those two things."
Louisville had the best chance of the first half when Charlie Campbell had his header deflected by Chris Korb and ricochet off the post in the 8th minute, but little by little Akron began to take control in the second half.
"Our goal was to stay on the ball as much as possible," said Porters. "The master of the game is the one who stays on the ball. Going into the second half, our No. 1 priority was to stay on the ball, make then defend and be patient. We knew it would eventually come, finding a goal. We gained more and more life, spirit and energy and Scottie found the goal. In the end, it got a little hectic and that's the way it happens in soccer."
The Zips' pressure finally paid off when Caldwell blasted a shot over goalie Andre Boudreaux and under the crossbar after his first attempt was blocked following a failed clearance of an Akron corner kick.
"Their pressure in the second half was pretty good," said Louisville coach Ken Lolla. "It was our inability to relieve it that made the difference today. In the first half, we moved ball very well, created good chances and very well could have been up a goal. But in the second half, we had trouble keeping the ball, one of our strengths, and we didn't do that very well in second half."
The Zips, who had finished second in 1986 and 2009, survived a wild finish during which goalie Scott Meves and defender Chad Barson were called up to make desperation saves.
The best chance came to Aaron Horton, hero of the last two Cardinal wins with last-minute goals. Open in front of the net with Akron keeper Scott Meves out of the way, Horton hit a shot that Barson cleared away with a desperate lunge.
The win upped Akron's record to 45-2-3 over the last two season. With only two seniors in the starting lineup, the Zips have all the makings of a dynasty, but several Akron underclassmen are tipped as hot prospects to turn pro.
Dec. 12 in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Akron 1 Louisville 0. Goals: Caldwell (unassisted) 79.
Akron -- Meves, Sarkodie, Barson, Korb, Valentin, Kitchen, Nanchoff, Ampaipitakwong, Caldwell, Mattocks, Nagbe. Sub: Speas.
Louisville -- Boudreaux, Rodgers, Granger, Murray, Berry, Campbell, DelPiccolo, Farrell, DeLeon, Mares, Rolfe. Subs: Smith, Tufty, Horton, Lipka, Walker.
Referee: Chico Grajeda.