AKRON, Ohio – University of Akron junior Marcel Zajac (Mississauga, Ontario) scored what proved to be the game-winning tally in the 33rd minute (32:51) to propel the fourth-seeded Zips (8-6-2) to a 2-1 men's soccer victory over SIU Edwardsville (9-5-4) in the opening round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 9, at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field.
Zajac's third goal of the season set up a date with top-seeded West Virginia in the tournament semifinals on Friday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. in Morgantown, W.Va.
Akron parlayed a a stout defensive effort along with tallies from senior Morgan Hackworth (Bradenton, Fla.) at the 7:59 and Zajac, as part of an overall 15-4 advantage in shots, into the squad's second straight triumph.
Playing with the wind at their back in the second half, the Zips registered a 10-1 margin in shots, en route to the overall 15-4 edge, including a 4-1 spread in shots on goal.
Zajac and freshman Colin Biros (Canton, Ohio) directed the Akron attack with a game-high three shots apiece, while sophomore David Egbo (Enugu, Nigeria), Hackworth, senior Ezana Kahsay (Asmeras, Eritrea) and freshman Sam Tojaga (Erie, Pa.) added two shots apiece for the Zips. Greg Solawa led the Cougars with a team-high three shots.
Senior goalkeeper Ben Lundt (Berlin, Germany) garnered the victory in net for Akron without needing to make a save, while Noah Heim recorded a pair of stops for SIU.
The Zips struck first in the match when Hackworth connected on his third goal of the season off an assist from Kahsay in the eighth minute (7:59). Hackworth redirected a deflection of Kahsay's initial strike into the back of the net to give Akron a 1-0 lead.
The Zips maintained the advantage until the 17:11 mark when Solawa bent a beautiful shot from just outside the corner of the box through a stiff wind to find the corner of the net for the equalizer.
A defensive miscue by SIU Edwardsville in the box corralled by redshirt sophomore Diogo Pacheco (Lisbon, Portugal) led to Zajac's game-winning goal in the 33rd minute (32:51).
Akron registered a 5-3 advantage in first-half shots, including 2-1 on goal, to maintain a 2-1 lead at halftime.
Zajac nearly netted a two-goal performance as his shot in the box at the 46:23 mark hit the crossbar before being cleared out by the Cougars.
Tojaga and Ebgo delivered shots on frame in the 72nd (71:13) and 74th (73:04) minutes for the Zips, both of which were denied by saves from Heim.
Akron's tilt against the Mountaineers on Friday, Nov. 9, will follow the other semifinal match between second-seeded Bowling Green and third-seeded Western Michigan. That contest is slated for a 2:30 p.m. start.