Akron - Four Star Recruiting Class - Sure, Caleb Porter, the coach that took the program to elite status and the school's first team national championship in any sport in 2010, is gone. But his departure does not alter the fact that Akron is a program that can and will continue to dream big.
Porter, who left to become the head coach of the Portland Timbers in the MLS, had the highest winning percentage in the country with a career record of 123-18-17 (83%) during a seven season tour of duty at Akron. During that span Porter took the Zips to the Round of 16 or better in the NCAA Tournament five consecutive seasons.
Yes, the Zips lose midfielder Scott Caldwell (9g, 10a), defender Chad Barson, and goalkeeper David Meves who were consensus All-Americans and forward Thomas Schmitt (3g, 0a) due to graduation. They also will miss midfielder Will Trapp, defender DeAndre Yedlin, and midfielder Dillon Serna who elected to depart early to enter the professional ranks. Despite all the departures, the cupboard is not totally bare. Not by a long shot.
Akron did well for themselves in their decision regarding a replacement for Porter. New head coach Jared Embick, who severed as the Zips' associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for the past six seasons, is no stranger to the program. Embick has not spent time worrying about what he doesn't have. Instead his focus has been on the players that he does have and the future of the program.
There are not any substantive differences in approach or overall direction between Porter and Embick which has made the transition a smooth one. However, you can look for Embick to place his signature on the program over time as he grows in his new role.
It goes without saying that Embick has some gaps to plug due to a staggering departure of premium talent. But he also had a talented core of returning players to work with and has added an eleven member recruiting class that includes midfielder Adam Najem who is ranked by College Soccer News as the nineteenth best recruit in the class of 2013. Najem is a gifted player who will likely push for playing time from the get-go. Freshman midfielder Victor Souto who participated in the spring season is an intriguing talent and is among the newcomers who could have an immediate impact.
The recruiting class does not contain the number of high profile newcomers that Akron classes have featured in the recent past but it is a very solid class and one that the Akron fan base should feel very good about. Embick stated, "We feel we have put together a strong class that enhances the quality and depth of our team. All these players are technically gifted and have a high soccer IQ and we are confident they will help continue the success and tradition of Akron soccer."
Senior Reinaldo Brenes (11g, 2a), a 2012 All-MAC First Team selection, who led the Zips in scoring last year returns as the top gun in the Akron offense. Injuries hampered Brenes during portions of the the 2012 campaign and kept him on the sidelines during almost all of the spring season. It all starts with Brenes who is a difference maker on the offensive side of the ball. A healthy Brenes is vital to the success of the Zip attack in 2013.
Senior midfielder Aodan Quinn (4g, 3a) who has been an All-MAC selection the past two seasons, senior Eric Stevenson (7g, 5a) a 2012 All-MAC Second Team selection who can play up-top or in the midfield, and senior Robbie Derschang (1g, 4a) who can play up-top or in the back are among key returning players. They give the Zips a little bit of everything. Senior midfielder Zac Portillos and sophomore midfielder Matt Foldesy are among other returning players who should play a key role in 2013.
Junior centerback Bryan Gallego (1g, 1a), a 2012 All-MAC Second Team selection, returns to anchor the backline. Gallego is an athletic prime timer with two years of starting experience under his belt. Not many players will outwork or outplay him.
Junior Saad Abdul-Sallaam will be the starter at right back. His ability to push forward quickly with the ball at his feet and his athleticism add an additional dimension to the offense. Highly regarded sophomore Andrew Souders also looks to be in line for a starting role in the back. Sounders, who is marked for bigger things this year, is among the jewels from last year's recruiting haul that was ranked by College Soccer News as the second best recruiting class in the country. Sophomore Phil Fives who appeared in nine matches last year with five starts will also be in the hunt for a greater role in the back line in 2013.
The graduation of Meves, who completed a successful four-year tenure between the pipes at Akron as the NCAA's all-time leader in shutouts, means that a new face will be in goal for the Zips in 2013. Redshirt freshman Fernando Pina , who was rated by College Soccer News as the twenty-fourth best player coming out of the high school class of 2012, appears to have the inside track for the starting job. Sophomore Jake Fenlason from San Diego, California also returns in goal.
Akron had a successful spring season despite missing several key players at times due to injury. Embick used it to try out several different systems of play which may be utilized during the 2013 campaign to add a little versatility to the Akron attack via a different look.
In past seasons the early departure of players to enter the professional ranks in addition to the normal attrition due to graduation have raised concerns regarding team chemistry and cohesiveness at Akron. That does not appear to be a concern for the Zips heading into the 2013 campaign. In fact, the continuity and chemistry that exists between the returning players actually appears to be a team strength.
Depth is a potential concern at Akron heading into the 2013 season. Injuries to a few key players could significantly impact the Zips and require untested players to pick up the slack. However if Akron stays healthy and the chemistry is right then FirstEnergy Stadium - Cub Cadet Field will again be rocking and the potential exists for this team to be very good.
Clint Caso - Midfielder - Kinnelon, New Jersey - St. Benedict Preparatory School - Sophomore transfer from New Hampshire where he appeared in eight contests last year. Red Bulls Academy.
Louis Cross - Defender - Lancashire, England - Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School - Played for Blackpool FC Academy. Named England's U-16 Independent Soccer Player of the Year.
Robby Dambrot - Midfield - Akron, Ohio - St. Vincent-St. Mary High School - Played for the Internationals SC. Three -time All-District selection. Team MVP. Also lettered in basketball.
Jonny DeMoya - Goalkeeper - Olney, Maryland - Sherwood High School - Played club soccer for the Baltimore Bays of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. 2011 All-Gazette selection.
Riley Grant - Defender - Copley, Ohio - Copley-Fairlawn High School - Played for Internationals SC. All-Ohio Second Team selection. Also played club with Everest SC Black.
Brett Gravatt - Defender - Dunn Loring, Virginia - IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Trained in Barcelona and Holland.
Adam Najem - Midfielder - Clifton, New Jersey - Paramus Catholic High School. - Rated by CSN as the 19th best recruit in the class of 2013. NSCAA Youth All-American. Red Bulls Academy.
Tyler Sanda - Midfield - North Royalton, Ohio - St Ignatius High School - NSCAA High School All-American. Played for Internationals SC. Ohio Co-Player of the Year in Division I. First Team All-State.
Ismail Seremba - Forward - London, England - Chelsea Academy - Has played with the Chelsea Academy since U-13.
Victor Souto - Midfield - Sao Paolo, Brazil - Sport Club Corinthians Paulista - Enrolled in January and participated in 2013 spring season at Akron. Played for Corinthians Youth Academy for ten years.
Sam Gainford - Forward - Whitehaven, England - Played for Liverpool Academy U-18 team.