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Akron, Maryland advance to the Championship

Article Written by J.R. Eskilson
Published: December 7, 2018

SANTA BARBARA, California - In a night with perfect soccer weather, Akron played a nearly perfect game of soccer. The Zips trashed Michigan State 5-1 in the opening game from the 2018 Men’s College Cup. Akron was clinical in the attack third, decisive in possession, and organized to quickly counter-pressure. The Zips put on the best display that the Men’s College Cup has seen in nearly a decade for the neutral supporter. Akron’s style was far less kind to the Michigan State fan. 

After a six-goal explosion in the first game, there weren’t as many fireworks left in the second bout of the night. Maryland came away with a 2-0 win over conference foe Indiana. However, what the classic fixture lacked in scoring, it made up for it in tactical nuance. The two Big Ten powerhouses spent most of the game poking and prying for holes. 

Maryland made the most of a pair of set piece opportunities in the game, which proved to be the difference on the night. The first goal came from Matt Di Rosa who was on the end of a corner kick in the first half for the opening goal.

Maryland center back Donovan Pines put the game to bed with his second goal of the season with ten minutes left in the contest. Pines got on the end of a free kick. He poked the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Trey Muse. 

Maryland effectively killed off the final minutes of the game with a long spell of possession. With another shutout victory, Maryland still has not conceded a goal during the 2018 Men’s NCAA Tournament. 

Maryland faces Akron in the final on Sunday at 5 p.m. (PST) from Harder Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.  

Akron(m) 5-1 Michigan State(m)

The Akron Zips buzzsaw ripped through the Michigan State defense in the opening game of the 2018 Men’s College Cup. Sophomore forward David Egbo scored the opening goal. Carlo Ritaccio, Skye Harter, Marcel Zajac, and Braden Petno also added goals in the 5-1 victory for the Zips. Michigan State’s Patrick Nielsen scored a consolation goal in the second half. 

The Zips lived up to the moniker of ‘Death by 1000 Passes’ on Friday with crisp interchange and clever movement that left Michigan State chasing shadows for much of the game. 

Akron was clinical in front of the goal in the game. Egbo’s opening tally came on the first chance of the game. Egbo was the key player in the opening goal. He was the finishing touch and the building block of the movement. The target forward found a ton of success in the first half as the gap between the Michigan State midfield and defense left a cozy corridor for the center forward to check in for the ball and link up with the rest of the Akron attack. Egbo sat out the second half with the Zips comfortably ahead and Ezana Kahsay having an excellent game in his role. 

The opening goal had the play roll out wide to the left channel. Midfielder Skye Harter lofted his cross to the far side and Morgan Hackworth did well to put the shot toward target. Hackworth’s shot hit off the crossbar. Egbo did not make a mistake with his finish and volleyed the ball into the back of the net. It was Egbo’s 13th goal of the season, and third of the NCAA Tournament. 

For the next 10 minutes, Michigan State had the better run of play after the opening goal. A few sloppy touches from the Akron midfielders and attackers opened up some chances for the Spartans on the break. Hunter Barone had the best chance but Akron goalkeeper Ben Lundt denied him with a leg save. 

“[Ben] Lundt is a great goalkeeper,” Michigan State head coach Damon Rensing said about the opposing keeper. “I think this Final Four has four exceptional goalkeepers. They punished us in the final third, and the final third was the difference in the game.”  

Ryan Sierakowski and DeJuan Jones also had shots on goal, but Lundt and right back Abdi Mohammed’s save off the line kept Michigan State off the board in the first half. The three saves in the first half destroyed some of the confidence of the Michigan State attackers. 

Akron doubled the lead in the 32nd minute. Substitute Colin Biros delivered the corner kick and fellow freshman Carlo Ritaccio headed it home for his third goal of the season. The center back’s glancing effort split Michigan State goalkeeper Jimmy Hague and the defender on the post. It was perfect placement off the set piece. 

There was no slowing down Akron in the second half. Skye Harter made it 3-0 on a brilliant free kick. Marcel Zajac grabbed his seventh goal of the NCAA Tournament on a brilliant strike from 25 yards out. 

“That was a free kick I’ve practiced a few times,” Sky Harter said about his goal. “I saw the goalkeeper leaning a bit and thought I could bend it to that corner.” 

“I like to cut inside. Ezana [Kahsay] made a great run to pull a defender.” Zajac said about his goal. “I knew I had to be decisive. It took a slight deflection but had enough to get in.” 

Michigan State pulled one back through Patrick Nielsen. The defender nodded home a corner kick. John Freitag was credited with the assist on the goal. 

Akron’s Braden Petno added the final goal with five minutes to make it 5-1 Akron. Petno scored on the rebound off a shot from Daniel Oliveira that hit off the crossbar. 

“In these quick turnarounds, I was trying to manage the game,” Akron head coach Jared Embick said about the deep bench and getting nine players off the bench into the game. Embick added that center back Marco Milanese was fine - the freshman had left the game in the second half after a collision with a Michigan State attacker. 

Maryland(m) 2-0 Indiana(m) 

The second game of the night did not have the same open end-to-end play, but it did have plenty of intrigue as familiar foes battled for the other spot in Sunday’s final .

Maryland snagged the opening goal late in the first half. Substitute Matt Di Rosa was in the right place at the right time following a corner kick. He smashed the ball into the far corner of the net for his first goal of the season. Eli Crognale was credited with an assist on the goal. 

The sequence started with star midfielder Amar Sejdic. The maestro of Maryland saw a slimmer of space between the Indiana defenders. He played the ball into space, which forced a retreating Indiana defender to knock the ball out for a corner kick. Maryland converted off the set piece for the opening tally with only seven minutes left in the half. 

It was Matt’s twin Ben Di Rosa who had the key play of the second half. With 27 minutes left in the contest, Ben Di Rosa had the last-second interception on a cross from Indiana that just needed a toe to find the back of the net. It was a crucial block from the right back. 

Ben Di Rosa made another outstanding play with 22 minutes left in the game. The outside back made a sliding block on a shot from Spencer Glass. Di Rosa’s toe block pushed the shot over the crossbar. 

Maryland earned some breathing room with 10 minutes left. Gigantic center back Donovan Pines got on the end of a free kick and poked the ball past the Indiana goalkeeper to put Maryland up 2-0. 

Maryland’s shutout streak increased to 360 minutes during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. It will be tested against the potent Akron attack on Sunday, which is fresh off scoring eight goals in the last two games. 

 
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