(photo via Butch Risma photography)
For the first time, I sat down and watched an NCAA soccer game, which happened to be Akron's 2-1 defeat of Michigan in the semifinals of the College Cup.
The initial takeaway (from a man who has tried so damn hard to like soccer): well, this feels different. Normally they're plucky, or surprising, or a feel-good story. These guys are just plain amazing. They were ranked in the Top 5 before the season, they made the championship game last year, and they went into this tournament as the 3-seed. Expectations are high and they're close to being met.
Anyone who roots for the MAC, even if they prefer their soccer games in tabletop format with metal poles through entire lines of plastic players, oughta (and is) getting behind the Akron Zips as they face Louisville for the NCAA soccer championship tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET.
The last team NCAA championship to come out of the MAC was Western Michigan cross country in 1965. Yeah. So no pressure on Akron, but 45 years of futility is riding on your cleats.
Nowhere in the forseeable future will the MAC win a national championship in a revenue sport — we're pretty cool with that for now, because that's sort of an unrealistic expectation for any program. If it happens, it happens. You can strive to beat 11 other schools ... but 300 others? At that point you're talking about a glorified lottery.
But we've struck gold with a little soccer powerhouse in Akron. It's not a Cinderella story or even an underdog story. When you're talking about No. 1 vs. No. 3, the difference between the two is negligible. UA has won the last four MAC Championships and seven of the last nine. This is sheer dominance. You thought Bowling Green women's basketball had a good run this decade? Akron soccer's is better.
In fact I'm sort of glad this is happening in a non-rev league. If a MAC team was always invincible for four straight years, that wouldn't be very fun to watch, until perhaps the national tournament.
So here we are. Akron made it back to the College Cup final and is playing a team coached by Akron's former coach. Storyline!