Akron finishes its business, wins first national title

After experiencing the pain of losing in last year’s NCAA College Cup final, Akron is basking in the glory of fulfilling its goal of winning a national championship.

It was mission accomplished for the Zips.

“We knew we could win this thing, we knew we had the team to win this thing, said senior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong after the Zips defeated top-seeded Louisville 1-0 in Sunday’s College Cup final before 9,672 fans at suns-plashed Harder Stadium.

The title is the first in any sport for Akron.

The third-seeded Zips (22-1-2) did it a year after they reached the final undefeated and lost in a penalty-kick shootout to Virginia.

“We knew this is our time, this is meant to be. This is our destiny to win this thing,” said Ampaipitakwong.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Coach Caleb Porter, who came to Akron six years ago after assisting at Indiana, his alma mater. He was on the staff when the Hoosiers beat UCSB on penalty kicks for the 2004 title.

“California has been good to me,” he said. “I spent six months in California playing pro soccer and I’ve always loved it here. I would like to have the College Cup here every year. It’s been good luck.”

Porter said winning the title at Akron is a credit to the players’ perseverance.

“It started Dec. 14 after we lost — bitter loss, painful loss — to Virginia last year, when we were the best team in the country and it ended on one kick,” Porter said. “For these guys to recover from that, move on and work even harder after having that type of year, it’s an absolute tremendous credit to these guys’ character. They were hungry all year. They dug deep to win games. It wasn’t easy, but they kept going and fighting, and refused to lose.”

Akron's Scott Caldwell kicked the game winning goal for the Zips.

He described his team as “a rare combination of talent and winning qualities. I’ve never seen a group with so much talent that buys into a team and is as cohesive as this team. For me, that’s why we won the national championship.”

On a team loaded with stars, it was one of the role players who delivered the winning goal for the Zips.

Midfielder Scott Caldwell settled a deflected corner kick from Ampaipitakwong at the top of  the penalty area and fired a shot that pinged off two Louisville defenders and ended back at his feet. On his second chance, Caldwell took a dribble before ripping the ball over the head of Louisville goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux in the 79th minute.

It was Caldwell’s fifth goal of his career, all of them coming in the postseason.
“Once I got my first one I really think that gave me a lot of confidence to keep going forward and look for more opportunities,” Caldwell said. “There’s been some luck involved, too. Balls have been bouncing my way and that’s what happened today.”

The Zips then withstood Louisville’s furious push to score the equalizer in the final two minutes.

Austin Berry fed Buck Tufty for a clear shot in the box, but Akron goalkeeper David Meves made a kick save on the point-blank attempt.

Seconds later, the ball was lifted toward the left post and Meves crashed into Louisville’s J.T. Murray while trying to punch it out. Aaron Horton ended up with ball with an open net to shoot at.

Horton, the Cardinals’ late-game hero in the quarterfinals and semifinals, fired a shot on goal, but Akron defender Chad Barson covered for Meves and cleared it off the goal-line.

“We were able to get a couple of chances in the last minute,” Horton said. “I was trying to take my chance again and put in the net. I kept it on goal but they made a good save on the line. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Louisville, which finished its historic season at 20-1-3, was trying to become the first team since Santa Clara in 1989 to win a championship with an undefeated record.

The Cardinals’ Ken Lolla, who coached at Akron for 13 years before coming to Louisville in 2006, praised his team for its incredible season.

“We’re very proud of how our guys have handled themselves and represented the city of Louisville, the university and the program,” Lolla said. “This journey has been a new one for us, so we learned a lot of things. The fact that we didn’t win it all doesn’t mean we won’t grow from it, because we’ll grow tremendously from it.”

The Cardinals created some good opportunities in the first half, defended for most of the second half and pushed hard at the end.

“On a day where clearly we were not at our best, we found a way to hang in there and at the end of the game (have a chance to) equalize it,” Lolla said. “It’s unfortunate, but it just didn’t go our way today.”

Akron outshot Louisville 19-15 and had nine corner kicks (8 in the second half) to four for the Cardinals.

They survived some dangerous situations created by the technically gifted Zips.

Louisville's Aaron Horton and Akron goalie, David Meves fight to gain control of the ball.

“We knew it was going to come,” Porter said of the goal. “We knew eventually we would find a goal because we have all season. As the half went on, I felt like they were just really hanging on, and I felt like we kept gaining more life just seeing them hang on.”

In the 68th minute, Ampaipitakwong flicked the ball into the path of Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks running side-by-side up the middle of the field on a 2-on-1 break. Nagbe took the shot but hit it wide.

A minute later, Akron put together a beautiful three-pass sequence but the shot by Ampaipitakwong was deflected out.

In the 71st minute, Perry Kitchen drove up left wing and crossed the ball to Darren Mattocks whose one-time shot was blocked by Boudreaux on a reaction play.

Akron’s Kofi Sarkodie had a shot saved by Boudreaux in the 50th minute.

Louisville created a couple of chances on corner kicks after the media timeout. Paolo DelPiccolo hit two headers on goal, the first one was deflected out and the second bounced around in the 6-yard box before being cleared.

Asked about Akron’s performance, Lolla said, “I thought they were good today. Playing against a good team, it stretches you. I would say clearly we had some guys who weren’t at their best today for whatever reason. Collectively, I don’t think we moved the ball well enough and at the end we didn’t create enough in the second half. We absorbed way to much.”

Sunday’s attendance was the second largest crowd for College Cup final since 2004, when 13,601 watched Indiana beat UCSB in a penalty-kick shootout at the Home Depot Center.

Akron defender Chad Barson was the only thing between Louisville's Aaron Horton scoring the game tying goal late in the second period. Baron made the save to preserve the win for Akron.