The 2010 college soccer season came to a close on Sunday on a beautiful sunny day in Santa Barbara at Harder Stadium with the University of Akron topping the University of Louisville 1-0 to claim the National Championship. Scott Caldwell netted what proved to be the winning goal in the seventy-ninth minute of play when he placed a shot into the upper right hand corner of the frame from fifteen yards out. In textbook fashion, Caldwell alertly followed up a rebound of his own shot to net the game-winner. The goal was Caldwell’s fifth of the season and third during the NCAA Tourney. At this point rather than a play by play description of the contest, it seems that observations might be more fitting.
1. The venue was great and it was good for all involved to have a championship match played in comfortable weather. The contest featured the type of conditions weather wise that most matches are normally played in during the early part of the season. A crowd of 9,672 was on hand to witness the championship game – the largest crowd at a championship match since the 2004 season when Indiana and UC Santa Barbara squared off in Carson, California.
2. An Akron-Louisville matchup for a national title and Michigan as a participant in the Final Four was not something many would have thought likely just a few years back. That bodes well for each of those programs and for college soccer in general. The only thing missing was a representative from the west coast – maybe next year.
3. Both Akron and Louisville play an exciting style of soccer but the difference in the approach of each was apparent from the get-go. Akron prefers a possession oriented style of play with a lot of emphasis on changing the point of attack to try to find an opening. Louisville favors a more direct approach designed to get the ball to the feet of an attacker up-top with less build up.
4. Role players are an important ingredient in any championship effort. Without a playmaker like junior midfielder Michael Nanchoff (10g, 9a) the Akron attack would be far less potent. Ditto that for Akron senior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong (3g, 11a). Sophomore Paolo DelPiccolo (2g, 6a) and redshirt junior Kenney Walker (2g, 7a) who saw limited action due to injury serve a similar role for Louisville.
5. A side that can gain a numbers advantage by successfully attacking out of the back has a much more potent and diverse offense. The ability of Akron defender Kofi Sarkodie (8g, 6a) to push forward down the right flank added an additional dimension to the Zip’s attack and significantly contributed to their ability to effectively change the point of attack.
6. Defender redshirt junior Austin Berry (5g, 2a) added an additional element to Louisville's offense. Berry had a career high five shots in the championship match.
7. Physical condition always makes a difference in the outcome of any contest. Both teams were physically fit but Akron appeared to have an edge in that area and it likely contributed to the outcome of the match. Physical conditioning is like money in the bank.
8. Calls, or no calls, by the referee can have a huge impact on the outcome of a match. What might have been a game changing handball in the box against Akron early in the match was not whistled. It was probably a good no call (some might dispute that) but the bottom line is that some referees likely would have awarded a penalty kick and that might have changed the outcome of the game.
9. Caleb Porter did an outstanding job of keeping his team on track and focused this year. This is the first time since 1978 that a team that lost in the Final the year before returned to win the National Championship the following year.
10. No coach in the country did a better job this year than Ken Lolla in terms of merging together and maximizing the individual talents of his players into a unified team.
11. Akron head coach Caleb Porter showed a lot of class at the post game conference when discussing the significance of the win on the program. Porter stated, “I didn’t put Akron on the map. I think Ken Lolla put Akron on the map. He was in the NCAA Tournament the last five years at Akron, and we’ve taken it a step further. Ken Lolla is a tremendous coach and I knew we would have difficulty against his team today.”
12 The 2010 season might be described as the year of the freshman. Forward Darren Mattocks (18g, 5a) and midfielder Perry Kitchen (6g, 1a) had brilliant seasons for Akron. Don’t forget the Zips had gaps to fill in 2010 due to the loss of forward Teal Bunbury and midfielder Blair Gavin, and Ben Zamanski. Freshman midfielder Dylan Mares (8g, 4a) also had a great year at Louisville and made a significant impact.
13. Like all sports, but particularly so in the case of soccer, missed opportunities on the offensive side of the ball often come back to haunt a team. Double that for mental or physical mistakes on the defensive side of the ball. Soccer can be very demanding in that regard. That reality was reflected in all of the Final Four matches.
14. In the survive and advance, one loss and you are done, format of the NCAA Tourney, the most talented team does not always win the National Championship. In 2010 the most talented team in the country did survive and win it all.