A lack of clean opportunities on goal and a fluid Akron passing attack spelled doom for the Penn State men's soccer team in a 2-0 loss on Wednesday at Jeffrey Field.
The Nittany Lions (6-4-2, Big Ten 1-1-1) did well to contain the No. 3-ranked Zips (8-1-2, MAC 3-0) early on, but were unable to quell one of the nation's best passing teams as the first half progressed.
"We were chasing shadows most of the night. I don't think we'll play anybody this year who can pass the ball like that," coach Bob Warming said.
For the Lions to keep up with the Zips, forwards Hasani Sinclair and Julian Cardona needed to create viable chances on goal via the counterattack.
While they were able to create some early opportunities, two offside calls on the Lions in the first ten minutes killed any offensive flow.
"When we actually got through, we had to stop because it was offsides so it was kind of frustrating," Sinclair said.
The Zips, whose lone loss of the season came to No. 7-ranked Notre Dame, got into an offensive rhythm starting in the 15th minute, pushing the ball up the sideline and challenging the Lions' defense.
Akron's DeAndre Yedlin was invading the right side, using deceptive speed and nimble footwork to push through the midfield and onto the outside. Lions left back John Gallagher, who was back from a red card suspension, and Brian Forgue contained Yedlin and the rest of the attack throughout the initial moments of the game.
However, the 15th minute was a tough pill for the Lions' 11th ranked scoring defense, as Forgue, the senior leader of the back line, was subbed out after earning himself a yellow card.
Forgue's substitution was the first time he's seen the bench all season, tallying his consecutive game time total to 1,060 minutes.
Gallagher said that while Eli Dennis stepped in and did well in Forgue's absence, it was tough losing the senior's leadership and stout defending.
The senior's presence was missed as Akron started to see scoring opportunities test Penn State goalkeeper Emmanuel Martin as the through ball began to click.
In the 23rd minute, Zips striker Dillon Serna earned a clear breakaway to the net, but Lions' transfer Martin Seiler turned on his German engine and caught up to him, forcing a shot wide of the net.
However, Akron, who is tied for fifth nationally in scoring offense, finally cashed in on a Lions' defense that continued to play with fire.
The Zips put the pressure on Martin again four minutes later, except this time striker Reinaldo Brenes finished. A through ball by a teammate freed him up to get in behind the defense, and instead of blasting one, Brenes took the easy chip shot over a diving Martin for the first goal of the game in the 27th minute.
"Everyone on their team has a great touch, the vision is just incredible, and they always know where they're going to pass the ball before it comes to them," Gallagher said.
The Zips virtually finished off the game with just minutes to go in the first half. Following a through ball, a foul on Akron's Eric Stevenson led to a penalty kick in the 41st minute.
The Zips, who sent out midfielder Scott Caldwell to take the kick, capitalized despite Penn State's Martin guessing the right side, making the score 2-0.