The University of Akron men’s soccer team will play Villanova in front of its home crowd on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Zips enter the game with a record of 12-5-3 while Villanova is 10-7-3.
The Wildcats hail from the Big East Conference, and they fell to Butler in the Big East Tournament semifinals, 1-0, in double-overtime. The Zips are champions of the Mid-American Conference for the fifth straight season after they defeated Western Michigan and Buffalo this past weekend.
Akron has a lot of hope coming into the tournament, as the team has a 4-1-2 record in the tournament under current head coach Jared Embick.
Also, senior midfielder Adam Najem (who was named MAC Player of the Year last week) has the most points in Zips’ history in the NCAA Tournament with eight points (two goals and four assists). Junior Stuart Holthusen, who led Akron with seven goals this season, has three career tournament goals.
Georgetown was the Akron and Villanova’s only mutual opponent this season. The Zips upended the Hoyas 1-0 on August 26, as senior Brad Ruhaak scored his first of the season with just 36 seconds left. The Wildcats, on the other hand, fell to Georgetown 3-2 on Oct. 29. Akron and Villanova have never played each other.
Akron fields a very balanced scoring attack. Three players (Holthusen, Najem, and Jonathan Lewis) each had 15 points this season, while two players (Sam Gainford and Ruhaak) recorded 11, and three others (Skye Harter, Nick Hinds, and Ezana Kahsay) had 10 points.
The Wildcats have less depth, but they feature junior midfielder Miguel Polley, who led the team with six goals and eight assists. Also, Lucas Hodges had six goals and three assists and Padraic McCullaugh recorded four goals and five assists.
The teams also feature a couple of solid goalkeepers. The Wildcats have the experience with junior Will Steiner manning the net. Steiner has a goals against average of 1.18 and a save percentage of .771 while sporting a 10-7-3 record. Zips’ sophomore Ben Lundt has been nearly as impressive, owning a 1.15 goals against average and a .700 save percentage. Lundt has started every game for Akron.
The winner of this contest will move on to play the seventh seed in the tournament, the Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday. They will first have to deal with Villanova on Thursday, at 5 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium-Cub Cadet Field in Akron.