AKRON How do you make an already successful freshman season even better?
If you’re former Jackson standout and current University of Akron midfielder Colin Biros, you deliver the biggest goal of your life to send your team to the 2018 College Cup and in the process, oust the defending national champion from the postseason.
Biros, a freshman midfielder for the Akron men's soccer team, headed home the game-winning goal off an assist from junior forward Marcel Zajac with less than 10 minutes remaining to secure a 3-2 victory. A beautiful cross from senior midfielder Marco Micaletto to Zajac put Biros in a position to deliver the knockout punch to Stanford.
It was the eighth straight win for the Zips and given that they were 6-6-2 when the streak began, it’s fair to say their year has taken a turn for the better.
"The past few weeks for all of us, it’s been crazy, not knowing to be honest if we were getting into the tournament, and then us coming together and making our run," Biros said. "I think we've earned it … our schedule hasn’t been easy and we’ve gone through a lot."
Those last few words could describe Biros’ freshman campaign as well. He earned a spot in the starting lineup to begin the season and settled in well, starting the first six games of the season. But as the Zips got off to a 2-3-1 start despite a talented roster, head coach Jared Embick shuffled his lineup and Biros headed to the bench.
"I started at the beginning of the season, but around the seventh game I wasn't playing well … I wasn't doing what they wanted me to and a lot of that was on the defensive side and having consistency there," Biros said.
After not playing in a road win over Grand Canyon University, he got back on the field and delivered an assist on a goal in a 4-3 win over Virginia Commonwealth.
He tallied his first collegiate goal in the next game, a 3-1 home loss to Syracuse. Though he would have preferred a win over getting a goal tallied next to his name, Biros admitted that being able to score his first goal for Akron at First Energy Stadium-Cub Cadet Field made the moment even more special.
"It was a surreal moment for me, growing up and watching them play there since I was little and then going out and scoring my first goal on that field," Biros said.
He remained a reserve for the next few games, but tallied his second goal in his return to the lineup, a 2-1 loss to Northern Illinois that stands as the last defeat the Zips sustained this season.
It was after that game that the season took a turn for the weird for Akron. A scheduling issue forced the cancellation of a road game at Notre Dame, which ultimately entered the postseason with the seventh seed nationally and reached the Elite Eight before being defeated by in-state rival Indiana.
A 1-0 road win over Mid-American Conference rival SIU-Edwardsville followed, but the next game was also wiped off the schedule as a power outage at First Energy Stadium-Cub Cadet Field forced the cancellation of the Zips' regular-season finale against MAC foe Western Michigan. Power went out to the stadium and adjacent buildings around noon and even as the scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff time neared, efforts to restore power weren’t fully successful.
Various light banks around the field came on, but maintenance crews and electrical workers weren’t able to satisfactorily light the field for a game. Discussions about possible alternative sites never led to any concrete plans.
Looking back now, Biros believes the SIU-Edwardsville game served as a turning point for the team and given that they defeated the Cougars again in the first round of the MAC tournament, it’s difficult to dispute that notion.
"I think for us it was the SIUE game when we started clicking and moving the ball well," Biros said. "It has to do with the fact that everyone played and we’re playing well together and everything is clicking."
Although quick to point to the entire team playing better and not focusing on his own production, Biros said that if he was to point to what he’s been able to contribute to the current eight-game winning streak, it would be getting the ball on the feet of the team’s top goal scorers, Zajac and sophomore forward David Egbo, in the best possible positions to score. While his goal to defeat Stanford came from close range, Biros typically is a bit further from the goal and is among those tasked with controlling the ball and shooting it ahead to the team’s strikers.
Two of those players, Egbo and forward Kahsay, are among the squad’s many international players. The roster contains players from 11 different countries, along with assistant coach Ger Coppinger hailing from Ireland, and having teammates from places such as Nigeria, Mexico, Spain, Eritrea, Sierra Leone and Portugal has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for Biros.
"It's been one of best experiences I've ever been a part of … a lot of new people from different countries and a new team try to gel with," Biros said. "It’s fun learning to speak Portuguese to the Portuguese guys, Spanish to other guys and also speaking Italian with my roommate (fellow freshman Marco Milanese)."
While they may speak different languages, soccer has proven to be the universal language that the Zips have spoken increasingly well in going from an unranked team with a shaky NCAA tournament future to a red-hot squad set to face Michigan State Friday night at 8 p.m. for the right to play in the College Cup final against the winner of Indiana-Maryland. The Zips defeated the Spartans 2-1 in East Lansing in early October and tied the Hoosiers 1-1 in an exhibition match in August, so they are plenty familiar with two of the other three teams left in the tournament.
Now, they have to see if they can extend their winning streak to nine or 10 games and claim the second national title in program history on the same field in Santa Barbara, Calif., where they captured the 2010 national championship.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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