Men’s soccer focused and ready for the season

By Ben Holda

Despite what they achieved last year, The University of Akron’s soccer team seems unwilling to rest until they hold the title of NCAA tournament champion again.

Their appearance in the 2012 NCAA tournament was brought to a premature end by a tense game against Creighton that was full of narrowly missed shots and excellent play from both sides. DSC_0005

The game ended in a shootout after two overtime periods where each team put forth heroic efforts but were unable to string together a goal. The shootout ended with Creighton up by one goal, after a miss by Akron.

This year, the Zips seem unwilling to let anything less than a championship title be their standard. They’ve absorbed their defeat, digested it and are ready to use it as fuel for the new season.

Last Wednesday, they had their first official preseason twice-a-day practice. They start out the 2013 season with a new head coach, Jared Embick, and a mix of new and veteran players.

It was apparent after only a few minutes of observation that despite the large number of new recruits, the bitterly cold rain and the lack of time to properly mesh as a group, the 2013 Akron Zips men’s soccer team is going to continue the school’s tradition of high-level play.

In possession drills, all the fundamentals of a successful team were present and in fine form. The players rarely touched the ball more than twice without passing it, which is important in maintaining the quick pace of play that has been a hallmark of Zip victories in the past.

The passes in particular were precise and well-paced, scarcely intercepted or off mark. You can see them mentally link up the things they need to do to get the ball where it needs to go. This quick thought process resulted in highly efficient play.

Another thing the Zips appear to be doing well is communicating. Everybody is constantly talking with their fellow players, creating a din of information that helps the team understand who needs to be defended, how to shift and shut down the offense of the opposition, and what opportunities exist that the person with the ball may not see.

The team is also remarkably fit. They all appear to have kept up with their training in the offseason. As such, team members all have stamina to spare. With soccer being such a physically demanding game, this is vital. The pressure these guys can constantly put on the ball is enough to fluster and force a mistake out of any player. The tradition of strong defense looks like it’ll continue in the new season.

There are several players that manage to stand out from the pack. The first is returning starter Reinaldo Brenes (#7). He is the top returning goal scorer for the Zips and a senior this year, and it’s easy to see that his field vision and calm, consistent ability in front of the goal will make him a difficult striker for the opposition to shut down.

Last May, Brenes was named one of the top ten forwards in college soccer by after he scored eleven season goals, had four game winning shots and managed a hat trick in a 4-0 win against Buffalo.

Bryan Gallego (#4) is a returning junior this year and a powerful defensive presence. He fills his position as a center back wonderfully, communicating with other players and making sure that the defending structure adapts to whatever the offense is trying. His leadership of the back resulted in 16 shutouts last year and despite the loss of some high-powered defensive players, he looks poised to do it again.

There’s also Aodhan Quinn (#9), a midfielder and returning senior. His ability to constructively move the ball under pressure is vital to the Zips’ style of fast-paced play. He appeared in 19 matches, starting in 17 of them last year. He even managed to grab some goals, but his primary responsibility on the team is to move the ball from the defense to the strikers, and it’s something he does artfully.

These three took some questions after the first of their two-a-day practices last Wednesday.

When asked about how the first practice of the season went, Brenes said, “[It went] pretty well. I feel the team came in pretty fit, so we’re going to focus on the
soccer part.”

On the progress of the team after one practice, Gallego told us that, “After captain’s practices and the first day, it looks a lot better than previous first years … We have a lot of returning players. It’s looking sharp.”

Quinn had this to say on the transition from former coach Porter to the new head coach, former top aide Jared Embick: “There’s a lot of difference in personality, but Jared’s been here the whole time I’ve been here, and he’s really smart and we always listen to him, so it’s not too big of a change at all.” 

After the Q&A, the players jogged off of the field to rest and relax until the second portion of their two-a-day practice. The team has adapted exceptionally well to the changes that have been imposed upon them.

Between the high level of talent that is ubiquitous among the players and the announcement that the Zips are ranked eighth in the country, according to a NSCAA preseason poll, expectations are high for the fall season. The season opening weekend runs until Sept. 1, with the Zips competing in the College of Charleston tournament.