Louisville, Akron and UCSB all passed their beauty tests with flying colors during the semifinals of the College Cup.
The NCAA men’s soccer championship will match Louisville’s top-ranked Cardinals against the Akron Zips at 1 p.m. Sunday at Harder Stadium. Both teams scored 2-1 victories Friday night.
Louisville (20-0-3) remained unbeaten by edging North Carolina on freshman Aaron Horton’s goal with less than a minute remaining in regulation time. Akron (21-1-2) had to come from behind after Michigan scored just a minute into the game, but a second-half goal by Kofi Sarkodie secured the victory for the Zips.
Every goal during the night earned style points – Austin Berry soaring high over a defender to head Louisville’s first goal; North Carolina’s 6’4” Stephen McCarthy answering minutes later with a header of his own; Horton chipping the ball over sprawling Carolina goalkeeper Scott Goodwin after taking a pass from Ryan Smith; Michigan’s Justin Meram surprising Akron by unleashing a rocket from the top of the circle with 1:02 elapsed in the second game; Perry Kitchen drawing the Zips even with a sizzler from 35 yards out; and Sarkodie’s decisive header off a free kick by Michael Nanchoff.
Santa Barbara stood out as the setting for the action. Temperatures hovered around a pleasant 60 degrees when Louisville and North Carolina kicked off, as the skies were going dark after a rosy sunset. The natural grass of Meredith Field was in prime condition. With a new scoreboard in operation for the first time and the stadium swept clean, 7,560 spectators viewed the show – not a bad turnout considering all the competing schools came from the East and South. The weather forecast for Sunday afternoon is clear and warm.
Louisville has a chance to become the NCAA’s first undefeated Division I men’s soccer champion since Santa Clara in 1989. The Cardinals are seeking their first national championship in a team sport other than basketball.
Akron has never won an NCAA title. The Zips came close last year when they took an unbeaten record into the College Cup final at Cary, N.C. After playing Virginia to a 0-0 draw, the Zips came up short in a penalty-kick shootout.
“Ever since we lost in the final last year, the goal was to get back here,” Sarkodie said Friday night.
North Carolina’s exit brought an end to a streak of three consecutive soccer championships won by Atlantic Coast Conference teams. The last time an ACC team did not appear in the final was 2006, when UCSB won its title over UCLA.