Some of the brightest young players in the MLS all have one common bond. They were products of Akron University.
In the past three years, the Zips have produced forward Teal Bunbury of Sporting Kansas City, midfielder Darlington Nagbe of the Portland Timbers, and forward Darren Mattocks of the Vancouver Whitecaps. In total, Akron has sent 11 players to the MLS in the last three drafts.
Penn State (6-3-2) will have its hands full on defense when No. 7 Akron (7-1-2) comes to Jeffrey Field Wednesday night.
“They got a lot going for them,” coach Bob Warming said. “They've put more players in the pros than any other program in America.”
This year has been no different, as the Zips have scored 2.5 goals per game, tied for fifth best in the country. Their 25 goals are tied for 12th best in the country.
The team is led by a trio of veteran midfielders: junior Reinaldo Brenes with five goals, junior Eric Stevenson with five goals and senior Scott Caldwell with six goals. Both Caldwell and Stevenson are products of MLS academies: Caldwell with the New England Revolution and Stevenson with the Columbus Crew.
Defender Akil Howard said the team has to stay focused if it is to shut down the Akron attack.
“It's just really hard work...trying to make sure we keep the ball in front of us,” Howard said. “[It's] just a lot of communication in the back to make sure we don't fall asleep or have any lapses.”
Akron's offense is in fine form, having scored 16 goals in its last four games. So far, only St. John's has been able to keep Akron scoreless, as the two played to a 0-0 draw.
Warming said the key to Akron's offensive success is slick passing.
“They're the best passing team in recent college soccer history,” Warming said. “I drove down and watched them Friday night, and it was remarkable the passing completion that they had.”
Part of the key to shutting down Akron's offense will be the ability for the Lions to get their offense going and keep the ball away from Akron.
The Zips’ defense has kept five consecutive shut outs, not allowing a goal since a 3-1 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 9.
Lions’ midfielder and leading scorer Julian Cardona said the team has scouted Akron's defense and found some defensive tendencies that will lead to success on Wednesday night.
“We've watched film and found a few weaknesses in their defense and hopefully we'll be able to get behind,” Cardona said.
With the team having a quick turnaround as they get right back into Big Ten play on Sunday against Michigan State, Warming said playing Akron is a learning experience for the team and will help them moving forward.
“We'll have our hands full, but I feel like our guys are up for the challenge,” Warming said.