SANTA BARBARA, California - The 60th Men’s College Cup kicks off on Friday from Harder Stadium on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. This edition of the event features a strong Big Ten presence with Michigan State, Maryland, and Indiana representing the conference among the final four participants.
“We’ve said for years, the Big Ten helps you prepare for a deep run in the tournament,” Yeagley said. “We have different styles. We have some different climates. We have some excellent coaches in the conference. I’m not surprised any of these teams got here.”
“It shows the teams in the conference are built for the tough environment and tough games,” Michigan State’s Connor Corrigan said about the Big Ten dominance in the Final Four. “It speaks volumes for what the conference has been able to do in the postseason.”
The Big Ten holds an impressive 11-1 record in the 2018 Men’s NCAA Division I Soccer Tournament.
“The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country, if not the best,” Michigan State’s DeJuan Jones said. “There are a lot of great teams within the conference. That three teams can make it this far is pretty special.”
Akron is the lone team from outside of the Big Ten still left in the running. The flag-carrying Zips open up against a familiar foe on Friday.
Previous meeting: Akron 2-1 Michigan State on Oct. 9
Michigan State best finish: Champions (1967, 1968)
Akron best finish: Champions (2010)
There isn’t a hotter team at College Cup than Akron. The Zips are riding an eight-game winning streak, including knocking off the No. 1 seed Wake Forest and three-time National Champions Stanford, into Friday’s game against Michigan State. Akron also battled through Rider and Syracuse on the way to the trip to Santa Barbara. Michigan State defeated UIC, Louisville, Georgetown, and James Madison. The Spartans have been tested in each contest and feel ready for the challenge after picking up a 7-1-1 away record through the season.
Akron head coach Jared Embick on Michigan State: “I have a lot of respect for Damon (Rensing) and his staff. They do a great job. I think highly of him as a coach. Beating them in the regular season is going to make this game more difficult. I think our recent success and momentum is going to make it harder. They’re going to be prepared and well organized. For us, we are going to have to find a way to play our game.”
Michigan State head coach Damon Rensing on Akron: “Akron moves the ball very well. Their wingbacks get very high. (David) Egbo only played the last 20 minutes against us the last time we played. I think (Skye) Harter is playing a little higher up the field. I think this is the most practical Akron team I’ve seen. I’ve seen them take goal kicks - usually they play out of the back every time. They went longer at times. It’s a credit to Jared, he recognizes what he has (with this team). It’s a very good combination. It’s a very good Akron team. They have good players, but I think our familiarity will help us.”
Key Stat: Marcel Zajac is the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament with six goals after a two-goal effort against Stanford in the previous round.
Embick on Zajac: “I think he has been more aggressive. He found his confidence. When he is aggressive and attacking players, he is a handful. We’ve seen it. In the beginning of the year, he was battling injuries and couldn’t get a consistent run of minutes or games, which is why everyone is surprised by his run of form now. But the players and coaches aren’t surprised. We encouraged him to find that confidence and aggressiveness. We’re going to need it this weekend.”
Previous meeting: Indiana 1-1 Maryland (Indiana won 4-3 in PKs) on Nov. 9
Maryland best finish: Champions (1968, 2005, 2008)
Indiana best finish: Champions (1982, 1983, 1988, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2012)
Two historically great programs meet in the second semifinal on Friday. The Hoosiers have been excellent all season and kept hold of a top spot in the rankings for most of the 2018 season. Indiana defeated Connecticut, Air Force, and Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament before claiming a repeat trip to College Cup. Maryland had a rocky road at the start of the season, but the Terps have been playing their best soccer in the past few weeks. Maryland defeated NC State, Duke, and Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley on Maryland: “They’re a really talented team. They’re balanced from front to back. They have an outstanding goalkeeper. They’re scoring has been a little bit more inconsistent than they’ve had, but they have some really good players. You can’t take one thing away from Maryland and feel you solved them. I think that’s the strength of our team too. I think there are a lot of mirroring qualities to both teams. We know each other so well the best thing is that we will just go out and compete. There are no secrets. It is whoever is sharper on the day, and the difference-makers who sharp they are. We certainly feel like we have key guys who can make a difference on both ends of the field whether that’s (goalkeeper) Trey (Muse) making a save like he did last week against Notre Dame or players who can make great goals for us.”
Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski on Indiana: “We expect another Indiana-Maryland great, classic match-up. Every time we play it is either a tie, overtime, or a one-goal game. We had a history with Indiana before we joined the Big Ten. The last time we played Indiana in the College Cup was in California in 2004. It was a classic game, 3-2 overtime loss. I haven’t forgotten that game. It’s a class program. Immediately after that game, coach Jerry Yeagley (Todd Yeagley’s father) asked to speak to my team and myself in our locker room. He said, ‘you guys will get your championship very soon.’ He was right. We won the year after. We’ve always had great respect and rivalry, and that’s still the same today. I’m really excited for this match-up. When the draw came out, Todd and I texted each other and said, ‘Let’s see each other in Santa Barbara’ and here we are. I think this will be a heck of a match for everyone to watch.”
Key Stat: Maryland has scored on their first shot on goal in their previous three games in the NCAA Tournament.
Key Stat Part 2: Neither Maryland nor Indiana has conceded a goal during the NCAA Tournament.