Ernie Aranyosi

Commentary: Akron, Maryland clear NCAA faves

Through two rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament, and the top seeds all remain alive. And it’s to be expected – with the top-heavy nature of college soccer, upsets can be a rare sight to see. Top teams have only played through one round, but the performance of Akron and Maryland stick out, solidifying their status as favorites.

With the layout of the bracket, it’s almost a shame that the Terps and Zips can’t meet in the championship game. It’s hard to read or predict how the selectors work, but Akron’s single loss to Cleveland State dropped them to a No. 3 overall seed.

The talent at the disposal of Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski and Akron coach Caleb Porter is definitely second-to-none. Both call upon big performances from players who have spent time with US youth international sides or who have spent time at the Development Academy in Florida.

But talent alone can’t win championships, and it will likely be those intangibles that set either team apart. Akron has the slight edge in that department, having come just short of the national title last year after going down to Virginia on penalty kicks in the championship.

[inline_node:320014]Senior captain Anthony Ampaipitakwong aspires to close out his collegiate career with a championship. Ampaipitakwong pulls the strings in a very dangerous Akron attack, buoyed by Darren Mattocks and Darlington Nagbe up front, and the peerless Kofi Sarkodie dominating the right flank.

The Terps don’t lack in experience or talent. Indeed, Casey Townsend and Jason Herrick, a junior and senior respectively team up with US U-20 'keeper Zac MacMath to lead the team along. Midfield linchpin Matt Kassel sets in a deep position, and distributes the ball into empty spaces.

However, with the stakes high at this stage of the season, simply assuming that Maryland and Akron will waltz to the College Cup is a mistake. Then of course, it’s also discounting the aspirations of Louisville, a No. 1 side for a reason.

The Cardinals have put together a very impressive 20-game unbeaten streak, and coach Ken Lolla has some talent available to him. Wherever Louisville comes up short against their championship co-aspirants, they make up for with a strong sense of camaraderie. Forwards Dylan Mares and Colin Rolfe don’t hurt either.

Of the four top seeds, North Carolina seems to be the most vulnerable, simply because of the number of injuries that have battered the team throughout the season. Two of their best offensive weapons – Cameron Brown and Billy Schuler – were lost either before the season start or very early, putting a dent in postseason hopes.

With those two in the starting lineup, UNC would be one of the clear favorites. Even though there’s sufficient talent in other parts of the park, like Michael Farfan and Kirk Urso in the midfield, without a real goal-scoring punch upfront there won’t be title talk in Tar Heel country.

All four sides will host up until the College Cup, provided that they can stay alive. Third round action this coming weekend should test these favorites like never before.

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