AKRON, Ohio – The University of Akron men's soccer team began its national championship defense with a convincing 3-1 victory over visiting Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field Thursday night.
With the win, the Zips (14-3-4) advance to face No. 6-seeded SMU (13-6-1) on the road Sunday at 8 p.m. (ET)
Scott Caldwell, Aodhan Quinn and Darren Mattocks each found the net for UA, which is competing in its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament. It was also a big night for Luke Holmes, who added a pair of assists.
"We're onto the round of 32," said UA head coach Caleb Porter. "Our goal in each of these tournament games is to win and move on, and that is what we did tonight. I thought it was a very efficient win. We battled as hard as we have battled all season long. I think that shows how hungry this team is and how confident we are in the tournament."
Akron dominated possession early, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime, and withstood a barrage of set-piece chances from Northwestern (11-5-5) in the second half before putting the game away. The Wildcats, who are champions of the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, scored their lone goal in the 63rd minute on a penalty kick.
UA's pressure resulted in a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute. Holmes made a nice run, splitting a pair of defenders before leaving the ball for Caldwell, who tucked his low liner from the top of the box just inside the left post.
The Wildcats nearly got the goal back in the 34th minute when Oliver Kupe got away from his mark and streaked down the left side of the field where he was one-on-one with UA goalkeper David Meves on the left flank. But Meves, who recorded a number of highlight-worthy stops, came up with a great save, diving to his left to turn Kupe away.
Holmes was involved in another scoring chance in the 39th minute. This time, he was on the receiving end of a Quinn cross and sent a one-time volley off the cross bar.
Akron maintained its pressure after the break and found a second goal in the 55th minute. Michael Balogun initiated the play with a great lob from midfield that bounced around in the box. After a brief scramble, Quinn collected the ball and buried it from 19 yards out.
NU cut the Akron lead in half when the Zips were called for a foul in the penalty area on a Wildcats' corner kick. But the goal was moot thanks to a beautiful combination play between Holmes and Mattocks in the 77th minute.
Mattocks received a final touch from Holmes in the near left flank and, from an seemingly impossible angle, punched the ball off the keeper's hands and the cross bar for his team-leading 19th goal of the season.
Zips Notebook: UA is making its 26th all-time appearance in the NCAA postseason ... Akron improved to 7-1-1 at home in the NCAA Tournament under Porter ... The Zips are 45-1-5 in their last 51 matches at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field.