When you come from a program with a pedigree like the the University of Akron men’s soccer team, you know you’re going to get everyone’s best.
Zips coach Jared Embick knows that, which is why the 10-year veteran frontloads the heck of out his schedule in preparation for the Mid-American Conference season.
The past five games have come against No. 11 Indiana, No. 22 Ohio State, No. 3 Pitt, No. 18 Penn State and on Wednesday No. 24 Duquesne was in town.
The end goal is a conference title and automatic NCAA Tournament bid, so the fact the Zips went 1-2-2 in that stretch means something, but not all the much.
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The good news is when Northern Illinois comes to town on Sunday, the Zips will be coming off a 1-0 win over the Dukes.
“For me, it’s just one game at a time and you’ve got to work your way through different challenges in conference play,” Embick said. “I think it’s important to have a game like this. You had a team that was really good at restarts and you have to deal with long throws and corners.
"We all know we struggled with set pieces [defensively] for a while and this team had a lot of goals off them and we handled it pretty well tonight, so you see the guys have improved. I think we’re looking forward to conference play.”
Akron feeling good heading into league play
After their game with Duquesne, the Zips (5-2-2) should feel good about themselves.
The Dukes (6-1-2) were ranked first in the NCAA in save percentage (.929), third in goals against average (.375), fourth in shutout percentage (.625), fifth in winning percentage (.875), 11th in goal differential (13) and 15th in saves per game (4.88).
They also averaged two goals per game, but against UA, they couldn’t even muster a shot on goal and only had six shots anywhere close to goal.
On the flip side, the Zips had 15 shots and five were on goal, including Dyson Clapier’s goal 7:24 into the second half.
It’s the second impressive showing by the UA defense after holding Penn State to just one goal in its previous game.
“Defensively, they can put out any fire,” Zips keeper Mitch Budler said. “We’ve gotten stronger on restarts. We kind of just switched over zoning and everything and we just made it a lot stronger. It’s something that everybody can get behind. Again, something that makes our defense is really anyone one-on-one can get the ball back.”
Akron attack, defense really coming into form
Once that happens, the Zips, who are averaging 2.4 goals per game (22 in nine games), can turn things around quickly.
The Zips have shown a style with which they can blitz defenses for 90 minutes and a look like they did against Duquesne when they built from the back as in years past.
Clapier and Jason Shokalook lead the team with four goals. Ryan Kingsford and Johnny Fitzgerald have three each.
Add it up, and it’s a multi-faceted attack that can score from all over.
“We kind of just have to handle business and play our game,” Clapier said. “When we play our game, I feel like we can compete with anyone in the country. We’ve got to be resilient and just push through.”
Up next, is a league game against the Huskies (3-3-2, 0-1), who have dropped two of their past three and have been shut out in each loss.
“You know I thought the second half [against Duquesne] we were really good,” Embick said. “We started opening them up and creating chances and we got the goal.
“Then I think we had quite a few other looks that could have put it away. Throughout all that, the two center backs and the back four were just excellent. They were focused all the time and put out a lot of fires when they needed to.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @bbournival.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron men's soccer takes momentum into MAC after victory over Duquesne