AKRON, Ohio - In a defensive battle it was the third-ranked University of Akron men's soccer team that earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over No. 11 SMU (15-3-4) in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 29, at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field.
The triumph propelled the Zips (17-3-2) into the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals for the first time since Akron captured the NCAA title in 2010. The Zips will host sixth-ranked Creighton on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 4 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field.
Since 2005, Akron owns a 15-4-7 mark in home NCAA Tournament games and will be meeting Creighton for the second time in tournament play all-time. The Bluejays advanced 5-4 on penalty kicks in the third round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012 after the two sides battled to a 1-1 double-overtime draw.
The outcome in the affair on Sunday was ultimately decided by a pair of own goals, one for each side, with the Mustangs' failed clearance resulting in the game-winning tally for the Zips in the 43rd minute (42:42).
Akron registered a 40-13 advantage in shots in the contest, including an 11-6 margin on frame. The 40 shots shattered the previous school record for shots of 34 set in a 2-1 quadruple-overtime win over Northern Illinois in 2001 and against Robert Morris in a 4-0 triumph in 1997.
Adding six, four, three and three strikes, respectively, was sophomore Richie Laryea (Toronto, Ontario (Canada)), redshirt junior Goncalo Soares (Lisbon, Portugal), senior Sean Sepe (West Islip, N.Y.) and in reserve duty, redshirt sophomore Robby Dambrot (Akron, Ohio). Emil Cuello came off the bench to spark SMU with a team-high three shots. Additionally, junior Victor Souto (Sao Paulo, Brazil), redshirt junior Brad Ruhaak (Akron, Ohio) and sophomore Nate Shultz (Mayfield, Ohio) turned in two shots apiece for the Zips.
Senior Jake Fenlason (San Diego, Calif.) notched four saves for Akron, while Michael Nelson turned in a stellar effort for SMU with nine saves.
Unheralded, but the backbone of the Zips' success in the contest was the play of the backline of senior Andrew Souders (Amherst, Ohio), redshirt junior Danilo Radjen (Broadview Heights, Ohio), Ruhaak and Shultz.
The Zips set an NCAA Tournament record for corner kicks in a regulation game as Akron attempted 19 in the affair. The NCAA Tournament record for corner kicks of 20 was set by Connecticut in 2-1 quadruple-overtime victory over Hartford in 1999.
Laryea nearly opened the scoring for the Zips in the 24th minute (23:25) as his strike on a pass from Soares went just wide of the net.
Akron capitalized on its next scoring opportunity as Najem served a ball from the top of the box to Holthusen, who dribbled a ball along the endline towards the goal where he found Soares just outside the six-yard box. Soares took the pass and bested a nearly unstoppable Nelson in net to register his second goal of the year to give the Zips a 1-0 lead.
Sepe narrowly missed connecting on his third goal of the campaign at the 27:43 mark as his strike in the box went just high.
A failed clearance off a corner by Bryce Clark in the 32nd minute (31:11) resulted in an own goal for the Mustangs squaring the game at one.
Some heady play in the offensive third from Holthusen and Laryea culminated in an own goal in the Zips' favor at the 42:42 mark, one that provided the game-winning 2-1 margin.
Akron bettered the Mustangs in shots in the initial stanza 17-8, including 4-3 on goal.
Clark nearly delivered his second goal of the season in the 61st minute (61:00) for SMU as only an Akron defender clearing the ball off the backline prevented the Mustangs from netting the equalizer.
Sepe appeared to give the Zips a 3-1 lead at the 66:16 mark, but was whistled after touching the ball with his hand on a shot from two feet in front of a diving Nelson.
Holthusen had his strike in the box blocked at the 68:52 mark for Akron before Najem's free kick hit square on the upper corner on the post and bounded out in the 71st minute (70:51).
The connection of Holthusen to Laryea nearly resulted in an insurance tally for the Zips at the 83:20 mark, but the strike went wide.
Akron outshot the Mustangs in the second half, 23-5, including 7-3 on frame.
The Zips' 17 wins on the campaign represent the fifth-best single-season mark in program history, last accomplished in 2013.