AKRON, Ohio - Overcoming a two-goal first-half deficit, the 22nd-rated Akron men's soccer team registered a come-from-behind 3-2 triumph over No. 14 Saint Louis (2-1) in the 1,000th match in program history on a rain-soaked Friday, Sept. 11, at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field in the home opener for the Zips (4-1-0).
"We did not start well tonight and we need to learn from that," Akron head coach Jared Embick commented. "Saint Louis is a great team and we needed a special effort and some great goals to come from behind. This team has shown it has resiliency and character many times. Today we showed that we now have the belief to go with it."
The Zips fell behind early in the affair as Anthony Brown gave the Billikens a 1-0 advantage netting his first goal of the season in the game's third minute (2:22).
Senior Sean Sepe (West Islip, N.Y.) had a strong scoring opportunity in front of the net for Akron in the fifth minute (4:09) float just wide of the corner of the net.
Saint Louis pushed its margin to 2-0 at the 6:58 mark when Filip Pavisic redirected his initial shot that deflected off of the save of senior goalkeeper Jake Fenlason (San Diego, Calif.) and found the back of the net for his second tally on the year.
Faced with a 2-0 deficit, the Zips dug in defensively and ratcheted up their game on the offensive end attacking the Billiken's defensive third with 13 first-half shots.
Junior Adam Najem (Clifton, N.J.) nearly found the back of the net for his second goal on the campaign with his strike at the 10:39 mark which narrowly missed connecting.
Akron's persistence paid off in the 39th minute (38:58) when redshirt sophomore Sam Gainford (Liverpool, England) took a ball slid into the box from sophomore Richie Laryea (Toronto, Ontario (Can.)) and lifted it into the net to cut the Zips' deficit to 2-1. Playing the ball to Laryea to garner a second assist on the score was junior Victor Souto (Sao Paolo, Brazil).
The goal was the first of the season record against Saint Louis.
Senior Andrew Souders (Amherst, Ohio) was denied netting the equalizer at the 44:13 mark as his shot was blocked right in front of the net.
Despite being outshot on net in the initial stanza, 4-2, the Zips posted a 13-6 advantage in shots over the first 45 minutes.
Both teams returned from the intermission with rain showers increasing in intensity forcing both sides to play through a persistent and at times heavy precipitation.
Just over seven minutes into the final period, in the 53rd minute (52:17), Saint Louis was whistled for a foul just outside the far side of the box that resulted in an Akron free kick. Stepping over the ball and delivering a strike that resulted in his second goal of the year and more importantly the equalizer was Najem.
The momentum clearly had swung back in the Zips' favor and spirited crowd of 2,734 helped lift the Akron efforts as the squad looked to net the go-ahead goal.
Gainford placed a shot on frame in the 60th minute (59:14) that was saved by Saint Louis goalkeeper Sascha Otte, before Najem registered shots on goal at the 62:45 and 66:39, which were again thwarted by stops from Otte. Najem's second attempt bounded off the body of Otte.
Taking the ball in the midfield and sliding a pass towards a streaking Gainford in the 71st minute was Laryea. Gainford capitalized on Laryea's effort recording what proved to be the game-winning goal at the 70:27 mark. The assist was the second of the evening and third of the season for Laryea.
The Billikens had strong scoring opportunities from Brown at the 83:46 mark which narrowly missed the net and a strike from Tyler David in the 90th minute (89:07) that was corralled for a save by Fenlason.
The Zips owned a 23-12 advantage on the evening in shots, including 8-6 on goal.
Najem collected a game-high six shots, including three on frame, while adding five, two, two, two, two and two shots, respectively, was Gainford, Souders, Sepe, Laryea, Souto and redshirt junior Brad Ruhaak (Akron, Ohio). Brown and Jair Minors paced the Saint Louis attack with three shots apiece.
"I thought Sam Gainford was special tonight and really got this team going," said Embick. "Now we have in state rival Ohio State coming in and we need to prepare for that."
Fenlason finished the contest recording four saves for the Zips, while Otte pulled in five stops for the Billikens.
Akron returns to action hosting in-state rival Ohio State on Wednesday, Sept. 16, in a 7 p.m. tilt at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field. The contest will be a rematch of the 2014 NCAA Tournament first-round game in which the Zips and Buckeyes battled to a 1-1 double-overtime draw before Ohio State advanced on penalty kicks, 13-12.