Tonight’s contest is the annual midseason matchup between the Nittany Lions and Zips. A series that began back in 1978, the Big Ten-MAC rivalry is tied 13-13-5.
The Lions come into tonight’s affair searching for their seventh win of the season and hope to get out of their recent slump, which has the team at 1-3-2 in their last six matches, dating back to the middle of September. Season stats are not in the Lions favor tonight as the team is 1-3-1 in road or neutral games this season, with the lone win away from home coming 1-0 over Florida International at the Wolstein Classic back in the beginning of September. That was also coach Bob Warming’s 400th career victory.
The squad is also 0-1-1 against nationally ranked opponents this season, suffering a 1-0 loss at Big Ten rival Indiana, but the squad did draw even with the Georgetown Hoyas 0-0 when they came to Happy Valley. If the Lions expect to come out of the hostile environment in Akron (where they rank second in the NCAA in terms of attendance) with a “W,” they are going to have to undoubtedly play their best soccer of the season. Getting a win would be huge for the Lion’s season and would break the 44-game unbeaten streak (41-0-3) that the Zips have at home, an NCAA record.
Akron is a team that is loaded with talent. So far on the season, the Zips (8-1-2) are hammering their opponents. They have netted 26 goals and have only allowed six to get past their goalkeeper. Four Zip wins have come by three goals or more, one coming in a 5-0 rout of Cleveland State. Sophomore sensation Darren Mattocks is no doubt the team’s star player. He has 21 points so far this season, scoring 10 goals, a team high, and recording one assist. Last year Mattocks was held scoreless at Jeffrey Field, but he did have three shots, one on goal in the contest. He finished last season ranked third in the NCAA with 18 goals.
Mattocks is not the only offensive threat for the Zips. They have a plethora of players that can find the back of the net, including seven players that have scored at least twice this season. Another player to watch is Scott Caldwell, the team assists leader. The junior is tied for first in the NCAA with seven assists.
Tonight’s match pits two of the best defensive squads in the country against each other, despite the Zips having three new starters this season on their backline. Both rank in the Top 5 in the NCAA in shutout percentage and both rank in the Top 10 in terms of goals allowed. Combined, the two teams have only allowed 13 goals on the season.
PENN STATE’S KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Defend, Defend, Defend, Defend, Defend. Keep the ball away from Mattocks as much as possible.
2. Capitalize on opportunities because there may only be a few.
3. Stay calm in the hostile environment. Don’t let their emotions get the best of them.
Akron wins 2-0 in front of 4,000+ fans, but the Lions hold Mattocks scoreless.