Los Angeles Soccer: Nicholas Hamilton
NORTHRIDGE -- Cal State Northridge, like Cal State Fullerton before it, took a physical approach against defending NCAA champion Akron on Saturday night. For the first 18 minutes, at least.
By then, the Matadors had racked up four yellow cards, with one defender sent off with two of them. Their showdown with the second-ranked Zips should have been over.
Instead, CSUN combined a dangerous counterattack with a superb backline performance led by Joe Franco (Monrovia/St. Francis HS) and several outstanding saves by goalkeeper Michael Abalos (San Juan Capistrano/Santa Margarita Catholic HS), taking Akron deep into overtime before finally succumbing, 2-1, in a thrilling, at times frantic finale of its Labor Day Classic.
There was a little star power in the crowd. Galaxy defender Sean Franklin (Palmdale/Highland HS), a Northridge alum, was honored before the game, and Chivas USA teammates (and Akron products) Zarek Valentin and Ben Zemanski sat a few rows below former U.S. national-teamer Brian Quinn, whose son Aodhan plays for the Zips.
Akron (2-0-1), in a little bit of rebuild mode after sending seven players to Major League Soccer this year, prevailed on Scott Caldwell's 106th-minute goal after Israeli freshman Yarden Azulay pulled the Matadors (1-2-0) even to force overtime, turning a midfield steal in the 82nd minute into a quick 1-on-1 opportunity, then chipping brilliantly into the upper-left corner.
“It's hard enough to play with 11 players against Akron, let alone 10,” Northridge coach Terry Davila said. “[Akron isn't] as mature as they were last year. We do that to them last year, you know, it would be a different story. ... We felt like we could play with them. Its just the attitude with our team. Good things are about to come for this team. Hopefully, this can be a turning point in our season.”
Northridge, which dropped their tournament opener in overtime to UNLV, went behind seven minutes after Nicholas Hamilton picked up his second yellow card, with star forward Darren Mattocks finishing from midfield leader Caldwell's feed.
The Zips rolled up huge advantages in shots (24-8) and shots on goal (14-1) and held a good deal of possession, but they couldn't put Northridge away -- and by the end, they were down to 10 men, too, with freshman defender Bryan Gallego dismissed with his second yellow card in the 83rd.
“Credit to Northridge,” said Akron coach Caleb Porter, whose team struggled against tournament winner Fullerton's physical approach in a scoreless draw in Thursday's classic opener. “They came and they fought hard and they didn't die. I think that says a lot about their group. ... I think our guys dug deep as well.