Los Angeles Soccer: Aaron Horton
GOLETA -- Akron should have won the NCAA men's soccer title a year ago. The Zips made amends Sunday, dominating top-ranked Louisville in the College Cup final at UC Santa Barbara and holding on for a 1-0 triumph.
Louisville (20-1-3), massively outplayed, especially in the second half, was unfortunate not to win. The Cardinals were denied a clear penalty kick midway through the first half and nearly netted a late winner, halted only by two desperation saves.
Akron (22-1-2), which fell on penalties to Virginia in last year's final, dictated nearly every phase of play in the second half, using a weaving passing game to trigger waves of attacks and spend most of half in or in front of Louisville's box.
It led to eight corner kicks in the half, and Scott Caldwell finished off one of them in the 79th minute.
Bests, worsts and so forth:
BEST PLAYER: Darlington Nagbe's finishing touch was off, but he was at the heart of Akron's attack all day, opening space for teammates and teaming with playmaker Anthony Ampaipitakwong to connect the dots through Louisville's defense. He set up chances by Michael Nanchoff and Darren Mattocks and fired just wide of the post, but our favorite moment: Nagbe, surrounded at midfield, twirls out of trouble and streaks forward, feeding Kofi Sarkodie on the right flank. The sequence ended with a foul, and the Zips did nothing with the free kick.
Three more we liked: Austin Berry, the backbone of Louisville's backline; Ampaipitakwong, the faux-hawked maestro who makes the Zips zip; and Nanchoff, the left-footer next to “Ampai” whose crosses cause havoc.
GOLETA -- It's No. 1 against No. 2.
Top-ranked Louisville and second-ranked Akron offered scintillating displays in Friday's NCAA College Cup semifinals at UC Santa Barbara's Holder Stadium, but both needed a bit of fortune -- and a late goal -- to claim berths in Sunday afternoon's final.
Louisville (20-0-3) was most impressive against North Carolina, creating far more opportunities but waiting until the end to pull out a 2-1 decision. Akron (21-1-2) was far more dominant against upstart Michigan, spending huge swaths of time in and in front of the Wolverines' box, but it took a defensive miscue to pull out a 2-1 victory and gain a repeat trip to the title game.
Bests, worsts and so forth:
BEST PLAYER: Lot of candidates -- Louisville's Chris Rolfe and Ryan Smith, Michigan's Justin Meram, a whole host of guys from Akron: midfielders Michael Nanchoff, Anthony Ampaipitakwong and Perry Kitchen, forward Darlington Nagbe and defender Zarek Valentin, etc. -- but Kofi Sarkodie was sensational from start to finish.
He set the tone for nearly everything Akron did: His forays up the right flank and into Michigan's box (he spent more time there than anyone, perhaps, aside from Wolverines goalkeeper Chris Blais) drove the attack; his physical play -- not always clean, to be sure -- kept Michigan honest; and he capped the performance with the winning goal, a fine header from Nanchoff's cross in the 74th minute.
BEST GOAL: After scoring with 52 seconds to play to beat UCLA in the quarterfinals, could it get any better for Aaron Horton? Oh, yeah. Three minutes after coming on for All-American Rolfe, the Louisville freshman took a defense-splitting pass from Smith and chipped Scott Goodwin -- lifting the top-ranked Cardinals into the final … with just 51 seconds to go.