Akron's victory over Louisville in the NCAA Division I men's soccer championship game was a year in the making.
"It's been a long journey," Akron coach Caleb Porter said after the Zips' 1-0 victory Sunday. "It started Dec. 14 after a bitter loss, a painful loss."
The Zips (22-1-2) won the title — their first in NCAA competition in any sport — a year after losing the College Cup final to Virginia in a shootout after a scoreless draw.
"They were hungry all year," Porter said. "They dug deep to win games. I'm proud of the win. I'm equally proud of the way our guys play the game."
Scott Caldwell ended Akron's frustration in the 78th minute, scoring on a 15-yard shot after Louisville defense blocked his attempt from the top of the penalty box. The midfielder has scored all five of his career goals in the last seven postseason games.
"Once I got my first one, that gave me the confidence to go forward," Caldwell said. "There's luck involved, too. The ball's been bouncing my way. That's what happened today."
Louisville (20-1-3) was attempting to become the first undefeated team since Santa Clara in 1989.
The Cardinals almost tied it in the final minute before of a crowd of 9,672 at UC Santa Barbara's Harder Stadium. Buck Tufty took a point blank shot that goalkeeper David Meves knocked away, then Aaron Horton cracked the ball back at the goal, only to have defender Chard Barson clear it off the line.
"That says something about the character of our guys," Louisville coach Ken Lolla said. "Never say die, always pressing forward."
Akron took 19 shots, while Louisville had 15. The game was played in bright sunshine with temperatures in the mid-70s. "Our goal was to stay on the ball as much as possible in these conditions," Porter said. "Stay on the ball, make them defend. We knew it was going to come. We knew eventually we would find the goal."
Although the Zips possessed the ball much of the first half, Louisville made several dangerous counterattacks. In the eighth minute, Charlie Campbell fired a shot Barson saved on the goal line. Meves made a diving stop on Dylan Mares' shot.
After probing the defense in the first half, the Zips went on the attack in the final 45 minutes. Darlington Nagbe fired a shot just wide of the goal on a breakaway. Darren Mattocks hit a screamer that Louisville goalie Andre Boudreaux dove to stop.
Meves and Boudreaux each made six saves.
Anthony Ampaipitakwong's corner kick set up Caldwell's two shots on the goal.
"Ampai was my first blue chip recruit," said Porter, who took over as Akron's coach five years ago when Lolla went to Louisville. "He didn't know where Akron was. It's amazing. Now he's a senior, and we win the national championship."
Defender Zarek Valentin said the Zips' victory should counter the losing image of Northeast Ohio.
"People think about Akron, they think about LeBron James and that whole fiasco," Valentin said. "This provides a good spirit on our campus."
Caldwell was selected the most outstanding offensive player of the final four. Akron's Kofi Sarkodie was honored as the top defender.