Akron earns return trip to title game

December, 11, 2010
12/11/10
3:31
AM ET

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The match had barely just begun, and Akron was already in the hole. But things didn't stay that way.

The Zips, who've been fueled for the last year by the way the 2009 College Cup ended, have a chance to put a much better finish on this season's version. But they'll have to beat the No. 1 seed, Louisville, to do it.

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Kofi Sarkodie and Hamoody Saad
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKofi Sarkodie and Hamoody Saad teamed up to tally one of Akron's goals.

Akron defeated Michigan 2-1 in Friday's second semifinal at Harder Stadium, rebounding after the Wolverines scored just over a minute in. Michigan's Justin Meram sent a rocket past Akron goalkeeper David Meves from the top of the circle.

The Zips conceded it was just a great shot. But they didn't let it rattle them. After all, they had defeated Michigan 7-1 in October. And even with as much as the Wolverines have improved since then, Akron still knew it was going to get its chances.

The Zips did; a fair amount of them in fact. Akron coach Caleb Porter thought his team had enough opportunities that it should have been up by a few goals by halftime. Instead, the Zips were even at 1-1, on Perry Kitchen's pure strike from about 30 yards out in the 33rd minute.

"This team I have here is a resilient team," Porter said. "They believe so much that they're going to get the result, that no matter what happens over the course of the game, they'll respond."

The score stayed knotted until the 74th minute, when Michael Nanchoff sent a free kick in front of the goal and teammate Kofi Sarkodie headed it in. Sarkodie had scored three goals in the Zips' regular-season win against the Wolverines.

"Mike found me in a good spot," said Sarkodie, who had missed a chance shortly before the one he put in. "That first chance was unlucky … it just skipped off my head. I was telling myself, 'If I get another chance, I have to make sure I put it away.' I owed that to the guys."

Akron's only loss this season was Oct. 30 to Cleveland State. Last season, the Zips were nearly flawless until the NCAA championship match against Virginia, which they lost on penalty kicks.

Porter said that the work for this year started pretty much the day last season ended. But to take that final step and give Akron its first NCAA title in any sport, the Zips will have to beat a Louisville squad that is coached by the former longtime leader of Akron.

Ken Lolla spent 13 seasons with Akron, leaving for Louisville after the 2005 season.

"He's a guy I respect a lot, and he did great things at Akron," Porter said. "One of the reasons I took the job was that there was a strong foundation and good culture there."

Porter has expanded on that, while Lolla has taken Louisville to its first NCAA title match in men's soccer.

Sunday's final couldn't be much more evenly matched. Both teams figure it's exactly where they belong.

"I think in order to win the national championship, you have to truly deep down believe you're going to be there," Porter said. "We expected to be in the championship."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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