In the past few years, the Akron Zips have stormed the college soccer ranks to become one of the top names in the game. Under the helm of a relatively young coach in Caleb Porter (who will be in charge of the Portland Timbers starting next season), Akron went from an unknown entity to a title contender year in and year out. This year is no different. Ranked number one in this week’s RPI, the Zips are out to avenge last year’s loss to eventual finalists UNC-Charlotte. However, this season the team’s strength comes from its upper class leadership. One of the problems last season was their lack of veterans – if you remember, the 2011 draft essentially depleted Akron’s ranks when seven of their top players were drafted (including our own 2011 pick, Zarek Valentin). However, the team has regrouped and relied on their senior leadership to carry the team to the top this season. And with the top ranking going into the NCAA tournament, their plan is on course for seeing them through to the title.
Virtually all MLS teams covet Akron’s players. One thing to keep your eye on this season is which players actually take part in the draft. Many of the Zips come from MLS Academy teams, and do qualify for Home Grown contracts. Chivas USA fans should be familiar with Akron products from past drafts -- Blair Gavin, Ben Zemanski, and Valentin all came from Caleb Porter's team. Here’s a breakdown of the top names for this season:
Scott Caldwell – The midfielder hails from the New England Revolution Academy, and is one the four senior leaders on this team. Caldwell’s name may sound familiar to you if you watched Akron take the 2011 NCAA Title – he scored the only goal in the championship game. While he only has 9 goals on the season, Caldwell is one of the top midfield prospects this season.
Chad Barson – The senior defender and co-captain is from the Columbus Crew Academy system. A player who will most likely be invited to the Combine in January, Barson is the heart of Akron’s defense, which is ranked second in the nation for goals against.
Bryan Gallego – The sophomore is one of the top defensive players in the college ranks. As a freshman, Gallego started every game for the Zips, starting as a central defender and then taking a place as a defensive midfielder for last year’s postseason. He comes from the New York Red Bulls Academy system.
DeAndre Yedlin – The sophomore right back has made himself known this season, in more ways than one. Besides his steady and consistent performances down the right side of the field, Yedlin is known for having the absolute worst hairstyle in college soccer (seriously, Google it. Ed. - She's right, do google it.). Yedlin comes from the Seattle Sounders Academy system.
Dillon Serna – If you follow the U.S. youth national teams at all, Serna’s name should ring a few bells. The midfielder is one of the top freshman prospects in the country, and has been one of the key players in the U.S. youth system for some years. He was a part of the U.S. U-17 squad that took part in the 2011 CONCACAF Championship, and has been a part of countless U-18 squads. He is, however, a Colorado Rapids Academy product.
Alfred Koroma – Another top youth national team player, Koroma was one of the top high school prospects prior to committing to Akron. A member of July’s U.S. U-20 Milk Cup squad, the forward is someone to keep an eye on, as he is one of Akron’s star players not tied to an MLS academy.
Andrew Souders – The freshman defender also hails from the Crew’s Academy. He also took part in youth national teams with Koroma and Serna.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!