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Akron tops Creighton in double OT to reach Men’s College Cup semis

AKRON, Ohio (Via University of Akron) – A perfectly executed free kick from junior Adam Najem (Clifton, N.J.) at the 101:55 mark of the second overtime snared the coveted golden goal propelling the Akron men’s soccer team to its fourth NCAA College Cup berth and first since 2010 with a dramatic 3-2 double-overtime triumph past third-ranked Creighton (19-4-0) on Saturday, Dec. 5, at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field.

The Zips (18-3-2) will battle Stanford in the national semifinal on Friday, Dec. 11, at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. Game time has been set for 8:30 p.m. ET and will be aired nationally on ESPNU/Watch ESPN.

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The game-winning goal was setup by a heady play from sophomore Richie Laryea (Toronto, Ontario (Canada)), who garnered a foul just outside the top of the box to set the stage for Najem to deliver his 10th goal and fourth game-winning tally of the season.

Najem was not to be denied after having an opportunity at a game-winning shot in the initial overtime period off a free kick at the 96:41 mark blocked.

The Zips registered a 5-2 advantage in shots in overtime, but were bettered 26-19 overall in shots in the contest, including 12-8 on goal.

Sophomore Stuart Holthusen (Auckland, New Zealand) directed Akron’s offensive attack with a game-high five shots, including a pair on frame. Najem added four strikes of his own, while senior Sean Sepe(West Islip, N.Y.) recorded three shots. Fabian Herbers and Fernando Castellanos led Creighton with five shots apiece.

Senior Jake Fenlason (San Diego, Calif.) was stellar in goal for the Zips corralling a season-best 10 saves. Connor Sparrow was nearly as impressive for the Bluejays garnering five stops.

Akron opened the game with a strong scoring chance in the third minute (2:26) as Holthusen served a ball into Sepe, whose strike was punched out by Sparrow for the save.

Ricky Lopez-Espin delivered a header at the 12:51 mark for Creighton that went just off target.

Holthusen struck a laser on net for the Zips in the 23rd minute (22:04) that barely went high.

Akron and Creighton battled to a scoreless draw in the opening 45 minutes, despite the Bluejays owning an 8-5 advantage in shots, including 5-2 on net.

The Zips finally broke through in the 60th minute (59:04) when Creighton was whistled for a tackle in the box on Laryea resulting in a penalty kick.

Stepping over the ball and delivering his eighth goal of the season with a perfectly executed penalty kick was junior Victor Souto (Sao Paulo, Brazil).

The lead was fleeting for Akron as Castellanos netted the equalizer for the Bluejays with his third goal of the season at the 63:09 mark off an assist from Herbers.

Najem, Sepe and Holthusen created scoring opportunities at the 70:18, 71:32 and 75:52 marks, respectively, for Akron which each narrowly missed giving the Zips a 2-1 lead.

The attacking strikes by Akron finally netted a go-ahead goal in the 80th minute (79:51). Laryea served a ball into the box where Holthusen accepted the ball and struck a shot that found the corner of the net to provide the Zips with a 2-1 lead. The tally marked the eighth goal on the campaign for Holthusen, giving Akron a NCAA-leading five players with eight or more goals on the year.

The advantage didn’t hold up as Ricardo Perez squared the contest at two converting his sixth goal of the season at the 84:17 mark off assists from Herbers and Timo Pitter.

The Bluejays bettered the Zips in shots in the second stanza, 16-9.

Creighton registered its only shots in overtime at the 91:41 and 94:25 marks. Fenlason denied a Herbers’ strike with a save, while Lopez-Espin’s shot went wide.

The Zips garnered shots from redshirt junior Danilo Radjen (Broadview Heights, Ohio), Holthusen and redshirt sophomore Robby Dambrot (Akron, Ohio) over the final three minutes of the first overtime period, each of which was thwarted by a Sparrow save.

After advancing past Creighton in the Elite Eight tilt at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field, The University of Akron men’s soccer team returns to the NCAA College Cup.

Akron will play Stanford at Sporting Kansas City in Kansas City, Kansas, in the national semifinals on Friday, Dec. 11 at 8:30p.m. ET.  The national championship match will be at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, Dec. 13.

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