December 13, 2009

Akron Falls to Virginia in National Championship Game

CARY, N.C. - After playing to a scoreless tie through 110 minutes, the University of Akron men's soccer team was defeated by Virginia in penalty kicks, 3-2, Sunday afternoon in the NCAA national championship game at WakeMed Stadium before 5,679 fans.

The top-seeded Zips (23-1-1) suffered the loss despite posting their fifth straight shutout of the NCAA Tournament, spanning 490 consecutive minutes. Akron, which defeated No. 5 North Carolina on 5-4 penalty kicks in the semifinal match Friday night, could not do so again Sunday in a match-up of the top two defensive teams in the country.

Virginia led 3-1 after three rounds of penalty kicks after Akron's Zarek Valentin and Kofi Sarkodie failed to convert. UVA's Jonathan Villanueva and Greg Monaco each had a chance to clinch the title, but Zips true freshman goalkeeper David Meves made a pair of brilliant saves to extend the shootout. In between, fellow Akron freshman Scott Caldwell found the net to close the gap to one, but Blair Gavin's final attempt sailed high.

The second-seeded Cavaliers (19-3-3) claimed their sixth College Cup championship and first since they won four straight national titles from 1991-94.

"It's tough to lose that way," said UA head coach Caleb Porter. "I'd like to credit Virginia for playing very well and putting up a good fight. They played us as tough as any team this year. As you get closer to winning a national championship, second place hurts more. You get so close you can taste it."

"What makes this one even more tough is that we didn't give up a goal in the entire NCAA Tournament, and yet we don't take home any hardware. I told the guys that they have nothing to hang their heads on. They raised the bar in my opinion. The way they played the game, I can hold my head high knowing we did everything we could."

UA suffered the loss despite out-shooting UVA, 12-10, and recording more corner kicks, 6-4. Moreover, the Zips were on the ball for much of the contest yet unable to capitalize.

"I thought we had chances today, but two incredible goalkeepers kept making plays," Porter said. "The defenders also made good plays and in the end it was a tie. You have to have a winner and in our sport penalty kicks is how they determine that. I've been a part of a team that has won that way as well, and I can tell you it's better than losing. But it doesn't feel quite as good as actually winning the game."

For the Zips, the result put an end to the greatest season in program history. The Zips matched the NCAA single-season record for most consecutive wins (23) while setting school records for wins (23), shots (412), shutouts (19), fewest goals allowed (7) and lowest goals-against-average (0.27).

Moreover, of those milestones three of them rank highly among the greatest in NCAA history. UA posted the second-most shutouts in single-season Division I history while it's goals-against-average and shutout percentage (.760) are third best all-time.

"What I'll remember more than anything this year is the way we played this game and how we approached going against the best teams in the country," Porter said. "We didn't hope to win, but expected to win. We didn't hang on potential results, but dictated the game.

"I thought we did that again today and we've done that all year long, so I'm proud of my guys. We will continue to follow the same formula. I've always felt that if you do that in the end it's going to be fair. We are going to keep chasing the national championship."

Anthony Ampaipitakwong had the Zips' best scoring opportunity of the first half in the 14th minute when he turned the corner and fired low towards the right post but Restrepo dove to his left to make the stop. It was the second of two shots on goal for UA in the opening period as Ben Zemanski recorded the other with a blast from 30 yards a few minutes earlier.

When they weren't on the ball, the Zips' swarming defense was relentless to get it back as Akron held the Cavaliers without a single shot for nearly 35 minutes (from 36:29 to 70:54) amid the intermittent rain that fell throughout the contest.

UA was clearly the aggressor in the second half but Virginia's defense was organized and physical in the final third. Freshman Ben Speas sparked another scoring opportunity in the 54th minute when he lost his man near the right touchline and crossed the ball into the box. Sophomore Teal Bunbury leaped up to meet it but his header went wide.

Zips Notebook: While the game ended in a tie, the NCAA's policy - exclusive for national championship games - requires that a winner be declared for all purposes, including record ... Sunday was the Zips' second appearance in the NCAA championship game. UA was defeated by Duke, 1-0, in 1986 ... Ampaipitakwong was limited to 49 minutes because of a leg injury. He left early in the second half and did not return ... For an extended period of time in the second half, the Zips had six true freshmen on the field at the same time ... UA ended the season with six shutouts in its last seven games ... The Zips allowed just one goal during the postseason (including the MAC Tournament), spanning 680:47.

2009 NCAA College Cup All-Tournament Team

Zach Loyd, D, UNC
Corben Bone, MF,
Wake Forest
Zarek Valentin, D, Akron
Teal Bunbury, F, Akron
Ben Speas, MF, Akron
Blair Gavin, MF, Akron

Diego Restrepo, GK, Virginia
Jonathan Villanueva, MF, Virginia
Brian Ownby, F, Virginia
Mike Volk, D, Virginia
Tony Tchani, MF, Virginia