Maryland Wins College Cup

Akron Zips Lose Their Zip in National Soccer Championships at UCSB’s Harder Stadium

Five Maryland defenders converge on a corner kick, leaving Akron’s Carlo Ritaccio (3) empty-headed in front of goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair.

Paul Wellman

Five Maryland defenders converge on a corner kick, leaving Akron’s Carlo Ritaccio (3) empty-headed in front of goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair.

Santa Barbara came out a winner by a score of 62 to 35 on the final day of the 2018 College Cup. The former was the temperature at the start of the Akron-Maryland championship match at UCSB’s Harder Stadium. The latter was the high temperature in Cary, North Carolina, where 10 inches of snow fell Sunday. Cary will be the host city of the 2019 College Cup, and the NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer final four will return to UCSB in 2020.

“Thank you, Santa Barbara,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said at the conclusion of the press conference after his Terrapins won their fourth national championship — and their first since 2008 — by shutting down the high-scoring Akron Zips, 1-0.

It was a bit cool by local standards, but Tom Hastings, UCSB’s tournament director, appeared comfortable in shirtsleeves throughout the evening. Besides the weather, the visiting coaches praised the condition of Meredith Field and the environment in the stadium, where the total attendance Friday and Sunday was 9,846.

That figure would have been higher if Maryland had not been so dominant. The Terrapins blanked Indiana in the semifinals Friday night, 2-0, sending the Hoosiers packing with their sizeable contingent of fans and a band that added a welcome musical festivity to the occasion.

The other semifinal was a dazzling display by Akron, which defeated Michigan State, 5-1, as five different players scored goals. But against Maryland, the Zips lost their zip. The Terrapins turned the final into a chess match, slowing the Akron attack and protecting their goal like a grandmaster organizing the defense of his king.

Maryland went through the last 500 minutes of its season without allowing a goal, including five straight shutouts in the NCAA tournament.

Cirovski observed that “both teams lost their crispness” on Sunday, calling into question the format of the final four. “To recover from Friday to Sunday is very tough,” Maryland’s 26-year coach said. It might be better, he suggested, to change the championship weekend to a single game.

UCSB soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg thinks along the same lines. “Holding the semifinals at home sites would draw good crowds,” he said. “Stage a one-night Saturday championship a week later.” In that case, fans of the final two teams would be more inclined to travel across the country.

There also has been a discussion about extending the college soccer season from the fall into the early spring, giving teams a break in the dead of winter. As it is, holding the College Cup between Thanksgiving and Christmas not only discourages travel but limits its visibility at a time when football and basketball are dominating the headlines.

Any such changes are not likely to be dealt with swiftly by the NCAA.

Jeff Sumner and his teenage son Davis watched Friday’s game at an Akron brewpub and decided to attend the championship match. They flew from Cleveland (18 degrees at takeoff) to Los Angeles and drove up the coast on Highway 1 through Malibu. They were shocked by the devastation of the Woolsey Fire.

As they watched Sunday’s match, Davis Sumner predicted that one goal would be enough to win. He hoped for a repeat of the 2010 College Cup final at UCSB, when Akron defeated Louisville, 1-0.

But 11 minutes into the second half, referee Chris Penso blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot in front of the Akron goal. From where the Zips fans were sitting, it appeared a Maryland player was taking a dive. The younger Sumner was livid. They did not see that the raised boot of Akron’s Colin Biros had glanced off the face of Johannes Bergmann, which prompted his grievous reaction and the resulting penalty. Amar Sejdic slammed the spot kick into the back of the net.

Another penalty added to the Akron partisans’ grief, which turned to joy when 6′6″ goalkeeper Ben Lundt made a diving save, but in the remaining 15 minutes, the Zips were unable to muster an equalizing goal. The Sumners made their way out of the stadium with hopes of returning in 2020.

ROOKIE COACH: Bishop Diego High soccer coach Mick Luckhurst enjoyed himself last weekend, even though the Cardinals lost all three games in the College Cup High School Showcase. They had a patchwork lineup after losing six starters because of sickness and injury.

“It’s nice to win,” Luckhurst said. “But if we look each other in the eye and know we did all we can do, it’s a victory, even though the scoreboard says differently.”

Luckhurst grew up in England, playing soccer, rugby, and basketball. He came to the United States as an exchange student and stayed because of his ability to kick a football, which he did for the Cal Bears and for the Atlanta Falcons.

“That was crazy fun, Cal Berkeley and then the NFL, but I’m having the best time of my life today,” Luckhurst said. “I never coached high school kids before. One thing I know, if you play with heart, intensity and attitude, that’s all we want.”

Luckhurst has three sons at Bishop — Jack, a senior; Adam, a junior; and Michael, a freshman — but only Adam was able to play over the weekend. Jack has shown flashes of brilliance — he was a football punter averaging better than 53 yards a kick his junior year, and he scored eight goals in the first three soccer games this season — but has endured two hip surgeries along the way.

“I wanted my three boys to have an opportunity to play any sport they want,” Luckhurst said. “I think it’s getting so specialized. My youngest will play baseball, soccer, football, and golf. If they want to go on and play in college, it’s brilliant, but it’s not essential.”