AKRON, OH - The Creighton University Bluejays advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament after edging Akron 5-4 on penalty kicks.
“This team has nothing to hang their heads about,” Akron Head Coach Caleb Porter said. “As I told the guys, soccer can be cruel at times.”
The Zips (18-1-3) opened the scoring in the 12th minute when a chip from Reinaldo Brenes went up and over Creighton keeper Jeff Gal. Gahanna native Wil Trapp got credit for the assist.
The 1-0 lead lasted into halftime as Creighton and Akron exchanged blows in what turned out to be a very physical match. The Zips dominated the stat sheet in the first 45 minutes, gaining an advantage on shots (10 to 5) and corner kicks (2 to 1).
Creighton (16-3-3) fought back with an equalizer from Timo Pitter in the 83rd minute as the German midfielder got the best of Akron keeper David Meves in a one-on-one scenario. Seven minutes passed with no change in the score so the match moved on to two “golden goal” overtime periods.
Fortunes seemed to have changed in Akron’s favor early in the first overtime period, as a red card was issued to CU defender Jose Ribas in the 91st minute. Going down to ten men against the number one nationally ranked Zips seemed like a game-changer, but Creighton somehow managed to keep the home team at bay, pushing the match to penalty kicks.
Penalty shootouts are always unpredictable. Things started well as Scott Caldwell, who missed a PK earlier in the match, converted the first attempt and was followed by a successful strike from Creighton’s Bruno Castro. Brenes and Eric Stevenson also converted their chances, as did Andrew Ribeiro and Sonny Makh.
Lady Luck turned on the Zips as Trapp stepped-up for his shot, which was launched high. Bluejay midfielder Zach Barnes converted to put Creighton up 4-3. Akron’s Aodhan Quinn evened things up at 4-4 before Pitter scored the game-winner at 5-4.
Akron was perhaps the better team - as the statistics clearly went in its favor - but Creighton deservedly took the match after hanging with the Zips for the game's duration. The home team was dominant on the pitch with a 31-11 advantage on shots, creating plenty of opportunities in the attack. It just wasn’t a great night for Tommy Schmitt (11 shots), Caldwell (6 shots), and Stevenson (4 shots), as each suffered from a lack of quality finishing.
LISTEN: Porter, Barson and Caldwell breakdown loss
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Akron defender Chad Barson stated.
Barson was the last player to leave the pitch, seated at the center of the field as the final fans left the stadium.
“What they did this year was incredible,” Porter commented. “During the seven years I have been in this program, this team certainly ranks up there with one of the best.”
It was the final game for Barson, Caldwell, Meves, Schmitt and of course Porter.
Porter, who will become the Head Coach of the Portland Timbers on December 15, finished his Akron career with a seven-year record of 123-18-17.
“He’s been like a father figure to me,” Barson added. “We’ve smiled together, cried together. I couldn’t be more grateful for what he’s done to help me succeed.”
Creighton will face UConn in Storrs, Conn. next Sunday in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
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