Akron takes care of business in semifinals

Akron is back where it expected to be: playing for a national championship.

The No. 3 Zips overcame an early goal and beat 10th-seeded Michigan 2-1 in the national semifinals at the NCAA Men’s Soccer College Cup on Friday night at UCSB’s Harder Stadium

Michigan stunned Akron with a goal in the first 62 seconds, but the Zips rebounded with goals in the 33rd and 75th minutes. Kofi Sarkodie scored the game-winner, heading in a perfectly placed cross from Michael Nanchoff at the far post.

Akron (21-1-2), is the final for the second straight year and will play top-seeded Louisville for the national championship on Sunday. Both teams will be looking for their first title.

Louisville defeated No. 4 North Carolina 2-1 in the first semifinal game Friday. Aaron Horton scored the game-winner with 51 seconds left in regulation.

Akron's Kofi Sarkodi (#8) heads the ball past Michigan goalie Chris Blais for the winning goal late in the second period.

Michigan’s defeat ends a storybook season for a program that 12 years ago was competing as a club team.

The Wolverines (17-5-3) redeemed themselves in this game against the high-powered Zips, who embarrassed them 7-1 back on Oct. 19. They got a great early goal from senior forward Justin Meram and defended like crazy.

“To see the transformation from the last 10 games when we last played them, that is a credit to their work and their effort and their players as well,” said Akron coach Caleb Porter of Michigan

Meram caught Akron off guard at the start when he dribbled up the middle and unleashed a 20-yard blast past Zips goalkeeper David Meves. It was his 17th goal of the season

“I saw a clear path, took a touch, put my head up, no defender stepped on me and just hit it,” Meram said. “It was a great shot. From there, I thought, ‘Man, we can really do this.’ It was a great way to start off.”

“tt was and excellent strike,” said Akron’s Michael Nanchoff. “Justin Meram is a good player, and a good finisher.”

After the goal, the Wolverines fended off several Akron advances into their box. Center back Kofi Opare was especially effective breaking up crosses and picking off dangerous through passes by the Zips

They were holding their own defensively until Akron freshman Perry Kitchen bombed a shot from 30 yards past goalkeeper Chris Blais in the 33rd minute to tie the score 1-1.

“That shot was fantastic,” said Porter.

“Their first goal was a great shot from the kid. There was nothing we could do,” said Meram. “I don’t think Akron dominated us. We played our hearts out.”

Akron almost took the lead in the 29th minute. Darren Mattocks made a great run through the box, lost the ball, won it back on a tackle and played it to Darlington Nagbe, who missed wide.

Michigan got a great look five minutes into the second half. Meram fed Soony Saad at the top corner of the box, but the freshman’s shot sailed over the cross bar.

Saad gave Akron a scare in the 65th minute. He received a pass from his brother Hamoody Saad, beat a defender one-on-one on the left flank and hit a shot that bounced off the far post.

“There weren’t really that many options,” Soony Saad said. “I decided to kind of sneak it in and try to bend it to the far post. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It was super close. That’s what happens in soccer. That’s what makes the game so interesting.”

Michigan coach Steve Burns thought the shot was going in.

“It had a good chance to go and it came off the inside of the post,” he said. “The outside post, those (shots) don’t bother me. The inside of the post, those do. One less layer of paint and that one goes in.”

Ten minutes later, Scott Caldwell was foul, setting up the free kick for Nanchoff. He delivered it to the back post and Sarkodie dived to head it in for the game-winner.

“Today was honesety a hard game for us,” Sarkodie said. “At end of the game, Mike found me in a good spot and I was fortunate to put it away.”

The Zips find themselves back in the title game, aiming to complete some unfinished business.

“In order to win the national championship, and in order to make it as far as we have, you have to truly believe that you’re going to be there,” said Porter. “We’re not surprised. We’re very grounded and very humble, but we know we have to do well to win on Sunday.”