AKRON, OH – It’s no surprise that the #1 nationally-ranked University of Akron men’s soccer team made it to the MAC Tournament Championship match. But it was a surprise when a sophomore walk-on scored the game-winner so that Akron could bring home the hardware.
The Zips finished the evening with a 2-0 victory over the Northern Illinois Huskies thanks to second half goals from Saad Abdul-Salaam and Aodhan Quinn.
Abdul-Salaam, a graduate of Gahanna Lincoln HS, scored in the 73rd minute as he slotted a shot past NIU keeper Jordan Godsey. Scott Caldwell and Eric Stevenson each registered an assist on the goal.
Just two minutes later, Quinn put the game out of reach thanks to a strike from 15 yards out. Caldwell would get his second assist of the night on the score.
The game-winner was Abdul-Salaam’s first career collegiate goal. Fellow Gahanna Lincoln teammate Wil Trapp claimed his first career goal against Bowling Green on Friday. The pair were part of the Gahanna’s state championship team in 2009.
“It’s a joy actually to score my first one in such a big game,” Abdul-Salaam commented. “They played me a good ball; I could do nothing but finish it.”
Walk-ons scoring goals are a rarity at Akron, but Abdul-Salaam is a special player. He could easily be labeled a sleeper this season, coming out of literally nowhere to find himself among the regulars. Akron head coach Caleb Porter called him “a gamer,” a casual player in training that becomes a monster come game time.
The match was dominated by Akron on the stat sheet as it held an advantage on shots (23 to 4) and corner kicks (9 to 2). But the first half was a lot of back and forth as neither team could put anything on the scoreboard. A big reason was the stellar performance of Godsey, who finished the match with nine saves, including a flying snag that was highlight reel worthy early in the match.
The second half started off hot for Northern Illinois as Gabe Christianson sent a shot off the post. It was the last legitimate opportunity for the Huskies as Akron’s dominance soon took over the game.
The win gave the Zips a 47-game unbeaten streak in conference play, a new NCAA record once held by Furman. It was also Akron’s ninth conference tournament championship to go with its eighth consecutive conference regular season championship.
“This year we have that extra gear,” Porter stated. “We have the right mentality where players step up. When we need more, they bring it. It leaves me with a very good feeling of confidence going into the NCAA Tournament.”
Akron defeated BGSU 2-0 to advance to the tournament final, while NIU snuck past West Virginia 1-0 also on Friday.
The Zips now anxiously await the results of the NCAA Selection Show to find out who their next opponent will be for the NCAA Tournament.
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