Zipped Up

Akron fell just short of an unbeaten season and a national title.

Akron made it through the entire NCAA tournament, including both the semifinals and the final, without conceding a goal. They won tournament games by blanking South Florida, Stanford, and Tulsa, and they held ACC powers North Carolina and Virginia scoreless in the College Cup this past weekend in Cary, North Carolina.

Unfortunately for the Zips, they failed to score a goal during final-four weekend, and so they went home yesterday as national runners-up while Virginia took the championship game on penalty kicks.

The Zips beat Carolina on penalties in the semis in what may have been the game of the tournament, full of crisp passing and fluid movement. The final was much more buttoned-up, as Virginia, which built an 11-game shutout streak this season, stifled every Zips foray into the final third. Akron didn’t get a single clear-cut chance on goal. After bouncing a header off the Akron post in the first half, Virginia didn’t threaten much, either. The teams were evenly matched, with both lacking that player with an extra bit of quality to unlock the opponent’s backline.

When Akron junior midfielder Blair Gavin, who’d nailed the clinching penalty in the semis versus Carolina (and was 5-f0r-5 from the spot for the season) skied his PK over the bar, Virginia burst into celebration of the school’s first national title since the Claudio Reyna-led dynasty in the early 1990s.

Look for the Zips to bounce back nicely, though, even if they do lose coach Caleb Porter to D.C. United, as reports are suggesting could happen. Their stingy back five, which gave up only seven goals in 2,300 minutes of play this season, features a freshman in goal (David Meves), and two others in defense (Zarek Valentin and Chad Barson) alongside sophomore Kofi Sarkodie and junior Chirs Korb. In other words, goals against Akron will be scarce again next season. Maybe not 0.27-per-game scarce (the third-best goals-against average in NCAA D-1 history) but scarce nonetheless.

Virginia, which began the 2009 campaign with three straight preseason losses, built momentum gradually and peaked when it needed to. The Cavs will likely welcome back their top two scorers, freshman Will Bates (12 goals) and sophomore Tony Tchani (8 goals, 4 assists), along with redshirt-junior goalie Diego Restrepo, who had a school-record 16 shutouts this season. Virginia’s g.a.a. for the season was also 0.27, just fractionally behind the Zips’ mark, and fourth-best in NCAA D-I history.

Small wonder the final was a goalless draw.