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Akron 2017 Team and Recruiting Class Review

School:  Akron
Conference:  Mid-American
Coach:  Jared Embick – 5th Season
2016 Record:  13-6-5 overall – 3-1-1 in conference
2016 Final Season Ending National Rank: 24 NSCAA and College Soccer News

Key Losses from the 2016 Team:  Midfielders Adam Najem and Goncalo Soares, defenders Danilo Radjen and Brad Ruhaak due to graduation.

Forward Jonathan Lewis who elected to leave early to enter the professional ranks. 

Five Year Win Total:

2012:  18

2013:  17

2014:  13

2015:  18

2016:  13

2016 Goals Scored and Goals Against:  45 goals scored and 25 goals allowed
Key 2016 Statistic: Akron was 3-1-1 in Mid-American Conference contests. Since 2007, they have a 51-3-3 record in MAC games.  

Background:  Akron is among the winningest programs in college soccer. In fact, since 2007 the Zips have the highest winning percentage in the country (.808) while recording a 171-31-26 overall record.

The Zips have earned a total of thirty-one berths in the NCAA Tournament and are one of only five programs (Indiana, Maryland, UCLA, and Virginia are the other four) to have earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the last ten seasons.

They have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen seven times in the past ten seasons and played their way into the coveted College Cup (Final Four) in 1986, 2009, 2010 and 2015. Akron won the national championship in 2010.  

Akron has been the dominant team in the MAC. They have won a total of nineteen MAC regular season titles including the last twelve years in a row.  They also have won eight out of the last nine MAC Tournament titles.

The Zips also have an impressive 104-8-13 record since 2007 when playing at home at First Energy Stadium at Cub Cadet Field.  

In 2016 Akron was 13-6-5 overall and won both the MAC regular and tournament titles. They then advanced past Villanova 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before their season came to an end when they were topped 1-0 by Indiana.   

Midfielder Adam Najem was an NSCAA and College Soccer News All-American and was named the 2016 MAC Player of the Year.  Forward Jonathan Lewis was named the 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.  Najem, midfielder Paul Belana, and defender Brad Ruhask were named to the 2016 All-MAC First Team. Lewis, forward Sam Gainford, defender Nick Hinds, forward Stuart Holthusen, and goalkeeper Ben Lundt were All-MAC Second-Team selections.  

Number Starters Returning in 2017:  Six 

Offense:  Proficient, productive, multi-dimensional and explosive are among the words that best describe Akron's offense of late. The Zips found the back of the net a total of forty-seven times in 2015 and forty-five times in 2016.

The first order of business on the offensive side of the ball heading into the 2017 season will be filling the void that exists due to the departure of All-American midfielder Adam Najem (5g, 5a) and forward Jonathan Lewis (2g, 12a) who was the number three pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Najem did a little bit of everything during his tenure at Akron including placing the ball in the back of the frame a total of thirty-three times. Lewis was a playmaker who made good things happen as reflected in his team leading twelve assists in 2016. The Zips will also miss the extra dimension that defender Brad Ruhaak (4g, 3a) brought to the attack.

The offense will start up-top in 2017 with veteran senior forwards Stuart Holthusen (7g, 1a) and Sam Gainford (4g, 3a) and junior Ezana Kahsay (4g, 2a).

The midfield will require some reloading due to the loss of Najem and Goncalo Soares (1g, 3a)  but a solid contingent returns lead by senior Pau Belana (0g, 2a) and sophomore Skye Harter (3g, 4a). Seniors Manuel Cordeiro (1g, 0a) and Tyler Sanda (2g, 1a) and sophomore Marcel Zajac (3g, 0a) are among other returning midfielders who look to be in the mix for a greater role in 2017.

Forward David Egbo and midfielder Wan Kamal out of the Sporting KC Academy are among the newcomers who could make an immediate contribution on the offensive side of the ball.     

Defense: Key departures include talented center backs Brad Ruhaak who was a three-year starter and Danilo Radjen who was a two-year starter. The void they leave in the back is considerable. 

On the plus side of the ledger, a solid foundation does return upon which to build. Returning backs include sophomore Nick Hinds (5g, 4a) who may also be utilized in the midfield, senior Niko De Vera (1g, 2a), senior Nate Schultz (0g, 1a, junior Shane Wiedt (1g, 0a), and sophomore Reggie Laryea (1g, 0a).

Junior Ben Lundt, who had a 1.10 goals against average in 2016 while posting ten shutouts, returns to anchor the defense between the pipes. The experience Lundt gained last year will enable him to hit the ground running in 2017.     


Coach Embick stated, "I have to give credit to my assistant coaches, they have done a great job of identifying Akron players at the positions we need. We have added great quality in defense, midfield, and forward."  Embick added, "We have expectations that these talented incomers will compete aright away with the returning players to fill the void of losing five starters. I am excited to the potential of the class and our team in the fall."  

Codie Lynd –  Goalkeeper – Belleville, Illinois – Played for St. Louis Gallagher Metro Soccer Club.

Marc Alexander – Defender – Pitsburgh, Pennsylvania – Kiski School – Played for Century V FC. Member Region One ODP team. 

David Egbo – Forward – Saltzburg, Pennsylvania – Kiski School – Netted forty-nine career goals and contributed twenty-eight assists at Kiski School. Played for Century V FC.   

Faisal Ghaffur – Defender – Mississauga, Ontario – Played for Sigma FC Soccer Club. 

Braden Petno – Midfielder – Hudson, Ohio – Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy – Played with the Internationals Academy. Second Team All-State. First Team All-District. 

Daniel Strachan – Defender – Lakewood, Ohio – Played for Internationals Academy.

Declan Watters – Defender – Dublin, Ireland – Member of the Shamrock Rovers Football Club.

Wan Kamal – Midfielder – Carbondale, Illinois – Played for Sporting KC Academy. Played with U-17 U.S. National Team. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 133 player in the class of 2017. 

Morgan Hackworth – Midfielder – Wallingford, Pennsylvania – Junior transfer from Syracuse where he appeared in eight contests. Played for the U-16 and U-18 Philadelphia Union Academy. 

Prognosis for 2017: There is a lot to like about Akron heading into the 2017 season. There are gaps to plug but a sturdy collection of starting players are slated to return on both sides of the ball.   

It is a given that you don't lose a player that was as productive as Adam Najem was during his four year tenure at Akron without leaving a void  The decision of Johathan Lewis to leave after a single season also creates a gap.

However, Akron has shown resilience in the past in filling the gaps that have existed due to the loss of impact playmakers like Steve Zakuani (2008),Teal Bunbury (2009), Kofi Sarkodie (2010), Darlington Nagbe (2011), Darren Mattocks (2012) and Richie Laryea (2015).

Whether a single player or multiple players will emerge to spearhead the offensive in 2017 remains to be seen. Five players return who scored three or more goals last year.

Senior forwards Stuart Holthusen and Sam Gainford will be among the most experienced players on the roster and will be counted on to play key roles in the attack. Over the past three seasons Holthusen has found the back of the net a total of nineteen times and Gainford a total of fifteen times. Both have big play capability.

Junior foward Ezana Kahsay, who appeared in twenty-one contests in 2016 with four starts, served primarily as a spark off the bench last year. Kahsay is among other returning players who will likely play a greater role in the attack in 2017. 

Senior Pau Belana, a 2016 First Team All-MAC selection in 2016, looks to be the guy who will set the pace in the midfield in 2017 and help fill the void that exists in that area. Ditto that for sophomore Nick Hinds who steadily improved last year as the season progressed. With the advantage of a year of starting experience now under his belt, Hinds has prime time ability and could prove to be a differece maker in 2017 whether in the midfield or in the back.

The backline is a bit of a question mark heading into the 2017 season due to the departure of Brad Ruhask and Danilo Radjen. Several experienced backs do return who are ready and eager to move into a starting role. The recruiting class also includes four backs who may be in the hunt for minutes out of the gate. The return of junior goalkeeper Ben Lundt is a big plus. Lundt will provide stability and leadership in goal.

As usual, the Zips will not be short on talent in 2017, and will again be the frontrunner in what appears to be a much stronger MAC from top to bottom than in the past. In other words, the Zips can't look past anyone.

The recruiting class is good and several of the newcomers have the potential to contribute. However, the class does not appear to have the star power resume wise that Akron classes had several years ago. As a result it make take some time for the newcomers to fully assert themselves. 

Anything less than a conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2017 would be a disappointment at Akron. Both of those objectives are achieveable. 

Akron has the potential to again make an impact on the national scene.

Just how much of an impact they will make in 2017 depends on how much the returning players improve and the ability of several of the players to assume a greater role.    

Posted in 2017 Team Reviews

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