|School – Akron
|Conference – Mid-American Conference
|Coach – Jared Embick (4th Season)
Background – Akron had another banner season in 2015 with an 18-3-3 overall record and a 4-0-1 mark in conference play. The Zips won the MAC regular season title for the 18th time in program history and the MAC Tournament title for the 12th time. Akron earned their 30th appearance in the NCAA Tourney last year and were awarded the number four seed. The Zips became one of only five Division I programs to earn a berth in the NCAA Tourney for each of the past nine seasons. They subsequently defeated Rutgers, SMU, and Creighton to advance to the College Cup for the fourth time in 2015 where their season came to an end in the semifinals when they were topped by eventual National Champion Stanford in penatly kicks after the contest was scoreless at the conclusion of 110 minutes of play.
The Zips won the National Championship in 2010 and were the National Runner-Up in 2009. Akron owns the highest win perccentage of any men's college soccer program in the country since 2006.
Forwards Sam Gainford and Stuart Holthusen, midfielders Richie Laryea and Adam Najem, and defenders Andrew Sounders and Brad Ruhaak were 2015 All-MAC First-Team selections. Goalkeeper Jake Fenlason and defender Sean Sepe were 2015 All-MAC Second Team selections. Najem and Laryea were named All-Americans by the NSCAA and College Soccer News.
Offense – Akron had one of the most high powered attacks in the country last year. Expect more of the same in 2016 with players who were responsible for forty-three of the fifty-six goals the Zips scored last year slated to return supplemented by the addition of a recruiting class that includes several players with a track record of finding the back of the net on a regular basis.
The biggest shoes to fill on the offensive side of the ball are those of All-American midfielder Richie Laryea (11g, 7a) who elected to take his game to the professional ranks at the conclusion of his sophomore season. Laryea, who led the Zips in scoring last year with eleven goals, was an impact player who started all forty-two of the contests he appeared in during his two year tenure in Akron. He was drafted in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City. The Zips will also be without the services of forward Sean Sepe (2g, 3a) due to graduation.
The Akron offense in 2016 will be powered up-top by redshirt junior Sam Gainford (8g, 7a), redshirt senior Goncalo Soares (2g, 2a) and junior Stuart Holthusen (8g, 6a). All three are experienced and very capable finishers. Freshman Emmanuel Sabbi who has experience as a member of the U.S. U-18 and U-20 National Teams should push for playing time up-top or as an attacking midfielder. Marcel Zajac and Jonathan Lewis are among other members of the recruiting class who appear to have the potential to contribute right away.
Senior midfielders All-American Adam Najem (10g, 11a) and Victor Souto (8g, 3a) are prime time goal scorers who are capable of scoring in multiples and taking over a game. Both will add a lot of firepower to the attack. Juniors Robby Dambrot, Tyler Sanda (1g, 3a) and Jesse Garcia and sophomore Pau Belana round out a very deep, talented, and experienced group of midfielders. Freshman Jesus Perez who can play either at the 6 or 8 position is among the newcomers who should add depth to the midfield rotation.
Defense – Akron must plug the gap that exists due to the graduation of back Andrew Sounder who was a three-time All-MAC First Team selection and goalkeeper Jake Fenlason who was an All-MAC selection in 2014 and 2015.
A solid foundation returns in the back led by senior redshirt captain Brad Ruhaak (2g, 0a), redshirt senior Danilo Radjen and junior Nate Shultz (0g, 3a). Junior Niko DeVera (0g, 1a) and sophomore Ezana Kahsay are among other returning defenders who are capable of playing a greater role in 2016. Freshmen Reggie Laryea and Nick Hinds are both extremely athletic backs who will add depth and could push for a starting spot.
The biggest question mark heading into the 2016 season pertains to who will assume the starting position in goal. The candidates are sophomores Elliot Rubio and Nick Costa and freshmen Jeremy Pollard who enrolled for the spring season and Tor Saunders.
Newcomers – Five Star Recruiting Class
Coach Embick stated, "This is an extremely taleted class." He added, "They possess all the attributes we seek in Akron Zip soccer players; technical ability, soccer IQ, speed and power. These players are proven winners and show a great desire to be the best and they will bring that competitive fire to our team from their first season."
Jackson Crawford – Midfielder – Massillon,Ohio – Played for the Internationals Academy.
Nick Hinds – Defender – Plantation, Florida – Member of the U.S. U-20 National Team. Played for Kendall Soccer Academy. Ranked by CSN as the number 78 player in the class of 2016.
Reggie Laryea – Defender – Toronto, Ontario – Member of the Sigma FC Soccer Club. Member of the Canadian U-20 Team.
Jonathan Lewis – Forward – Plantation, Florida – Played for the Chicago Fire Academy and Kendall Soccer Academy. Invited to the Jamaican National Team Camp.
Alex Mapp – Midfielder – Medina, Ohio – Played for the Internationals Academy.
Jesus Perez – Midfielder – Waukegan, Illinois – Member of the U.S. U-18 National Team. Played with the Chicago Fire and Chicago Magic Soccer Clubs. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 39 player in the class of 2016 by CSN.
Jeremy Pollard – Goalkeeper – Manly Beach, Australia – Played for Manly United. Enrolled in the Spring Semester. Has played with the Australian Schoolboy National Team.
Emmanuel Sabbi – Midfielder – Columbus, Ohio – Ranked by CSN as the number thirteen player in the class of 2016. Played with the U.S. U-20 and U-18 National Teams. Played with the Chicago Magic.
Tor Saunders – Goalkeeper – Bothell, Washington – Played with the Seattle Sounders Academy. Member of Snohomish United.
Marzel Zajac – Forward – Mississauga, Ontario – Member of the Canadian U-20 National Team. Played for the Provisional U-21 Elite. Member of Sigma FC.
Prognosis for 2016 – Akron returns multiple players that either started a majority of games or saw significant playing time last year. They will be experienced and deep up-top, in the midfield, and in the back. The talent keeps arriving in Akron with the addition of a ten member recruiting class that has the potential to contribute right away.
How far the Zips go in 2016 may hinge on their ability to fill the void on the offensive side of the ball that exists due to the departure of midfielder Richie Laryea and their ability to successfully replace Jake Fenlasson between the pipes. They also will have the nice to have but often daunting problem of sorting out playing time that comes with having so many talented players on board.
Akron will ocntinue to have a high pressure offense in 2016 powered by playmakers like senior midfielders Adam Najem and Victor Souto and redshirt junior forward Sam Gainford. Once they gel Akron will have a showcase offense that will be able to run and gun with anyone in the country.
The backline anchored by senior centerbacks Brad Ruhaak and Danilo Radjen and junior Nate Shultz who also adds an additional dimension to the attack should be solid. The X-Factor on the defensive side of the ball will be the play between the pipes.
There is plenty to like about Akron's talent, experience, and depth heading into the 2016 campaign. If a few of the returning players step up to the challenge of assuming a greater role and the newcomers mature quickly then another MAC Title, a tenth consecutive invite to the NCAA Tournament, and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament are realistic expectations. Getting to the Final Four is difficult. Doing it in back-to-back seasons is even harder but there is certainly enough talent on board for Akron to do just that in 2016.