The Cardinals Get Zip In College Soccer
…Continued from the previous post.
In an imaginary sequel to Field of Dreams, a soccer-playing counterpart to Shoeless Joe Jackson might have said to Kevin Costner “Is this heaven?” To which Costner would have replied, “No, it’s Santa Barbara in December.”
Quite honestly, I don’t know how anyone manages to graduate from UC Santa Barbara. I’m not sure I could have made it across campus to a single class without being enticed off course. So I wondered how the NCAA could expect the soccer teams from Akron and Louisville to concentrate for the 90 minutes needed to determine our national champion.
Fortunately collegians are made of tougher stuff these days though, and not once do I recall anyone drifting away from play in the College Cup final to check out the surf. Even more impressive – a crowd of almost 10,000 fans suppressed the urge to wander as well.
The Akron Zips cheering section in particular was emotionally invested from the start. We had them at “potential first national championship of any kind”. There were two things that I found to be a bit odd about the group of fans who billed themselves as the AK Rowdies though.
First, they had chosen what I thought at first glance to be a disadvantaged spot in the stands to gather – behind the goal, at just slightly higher than ground level. From our panoramic vantage point in the top row of the grandstand, I bounced that thought off of The C.O., my guest expert on all things related to soccer. He didn’t think their choice was unusual at all, given that during the second half they would be positioned directly behind the Louisville goal – and thus able to initiate a “meaningful dialogue” with the Cardinal goalkeeper, shall we say.OK, that makes sense.
But what about the fact that half of the AK Rowdies were dressed in Akron’s navy blue and gold, and the other half wore bright yellow? A fan seated nearby cleared that up for us. See, not all of the AK Rowdies could cobble together the finances for a long weekend on the shores of the Pacific, so they put out a call for help. And their call was answered by the Gaucho Locos.
Evidently, the cheering section for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos was still milling around reeling from the shock of an early-round loss that had bumped them from the tournament. They had stocked up on tortillas, since their custom is to toss dozens of them into the air whenever the Gauchos score a goal. So they had plenty to eat. But they were a little thirsty…
So when the good folks on ZipsNation.org floated the idea of a cultural exchange – beers for cheers, as it were – well, they didn’t have to ask twice. And so it was that Rowdies and Locos joined forces in “reaching out” to Andre Boudreaux, who had the unenviable (and noisy) task of guarding the Louisville goal.
In the early going, Akron carried the play, controlling the ball at least twice as much as Louisville. The Cardinals however, were the ones who had two golden scoring opportunities present themselves…and go by the board. On the first of those, the ball was literally less than one rotation from rolling across the goal line when a sliding defenseman kicked it away.
Not long after that, I was extolling the virtues of a game in which there were no television time-outs, and describing to The C.O. how far past the tipping point that the NFL has gone in that department. Just then, for no apparent reason, play was halted. The C.O. explained that the only organizing body of soccer that sanctions media time-outs is the NCAA. It doesn’t happen in Major League Soccer, in the English Premier League or in either of the UEFA leagues – all heavily sponsored professional entities.
The media time-out did not sit well with The C.O. for at least two reasons: (1) “Soccer doesn’t stop”; and (2) Halting play opens the door for ill-advised cheesy attempts to get the crowd “pumped up.” It was nice to hear unsolicited verification of something that I’ve been struggling with throughout the entire IGTS Tour. Crowd reaction should be authentic. Period.
Halftime came and went, and play went well into the second half without a score. Suddenly Akron emerged from the middle of the field on a 2-on-1 breakaway. The two players ran side by side, somewhat jointly dribbling the ball as the crowd rose to its feet. Who would take the shot?
It turned out to be Darlington Nagbe, the cover boy for the official College Cup program and a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, the Heisman of college soccer. To my admittedly untrained eye though, it should have been Darren Mattocks, a freshman from Jamaica whose 18 goals coming into the College Cup tied him for third in the country.
The shot by committee wound up rolling just barely wide. But the Akron onslaught was on.
In short order, Louisville goalie Boudreaux was called upon to make a great save off of an Akron corner kick – which in turn led to another corner kick opportunity for the Zips. You got the feeling that a score was imminent. It was just a matter of which one of the Akron stars would convert and how they would do it. The excitement in the air was palpable; it was…
And now…a word from our sponsors.
The ESPN Advertising Sales Department served as the defensive stopper that Louisville needed, and when the game resumed after the television time-out, the field that had been so strongly tilted the Zip’s way evened out.
Then, in the 79th minute, Akron’s Scott Caldwell found his own shot deflected right back to him, giving him the opportunity to settle the ball and take another shot. He deposited this second chance just over the leaping Boudreaux, and into the goal that was being closely monitored by the LocoRowdies (RowdieLocos?).
A shower of airborne tortillas ensued. Hopefully, sans guacamole.
Faced with the prospect of losing the championship game and their undefeated season, Louisville suddenly turned into the offensive pressure machine that they’d been publicized as being. With just 1:15 left in the game, a flurry of action resulted in two prime opportunities among several chances to score.
On the second of those, Akron goalie David Meves was out of position, having collided with another player, when the ball came to Louisville’s Aaron Horton. Presented with a wide open goal and a full second or more to line up a shot, it looked for all the world like Horton would send the game into overtime. Zips defender Chad Barson appeared almost out of nowhere though to make a kick save – and a beauty (if I may borrow a phrase from the yet-to-be-covered sport of hockey).
When the final whistle blew to end the game moments later, more tortillas were tossed. An Akron player grabbed the championship trophy before it had even been presented, and sprinted down the field to share it with the LocoRowdies.
In the end, the team that should have won the game did. Akron outshot Louisville 19-15, and even more telling, had nine corner kicks to the Cardinal’s four.
As for The C.O. and I…well, we got lost trying to make our way off of the UC Santa Barbara campus. Hey, you would have been distracted too.
Next Up: The U.S. Table Tennis Nationals