On Sunday, the Syracuse Orange (7-7-4) did a lot of things right. They looked the better team for a good chunk of the match. They were able to control the ball and get some solid chances throughout the contest. Unfortunately they weren’t able to finish enough of the opportunities and were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by the Akron Zips, 3-1, yesterday.
The match was moved from the home venue of SU Soccer Stadium, to Beyer-Small ‘76 Field, at the Colgate University athletic complex, due to the snowy field conditions on the hill. This turned a home NCAA match into a glorified neutral site contest, adding an hour drive to the home side, and turning what would have been an attendance in the 1,000s to 240 brave individuals who decided to stand outside in the snow and ice.
The match itself started off with Syracuse reverting to the 3-5-2 that they had used earlier in the year, sacrificing the offense of Massimo Ferrin, for the ability of John-Austin Ricks to get up and down the touch line. The formation is a natural counter to counter attacking, if you have the personnel to play it, and that’s what Akron was going to do. It also lets you play from the wide areas if you have the wingbacks to get up and down the line, which Syracuse does in Ricks, Simon Triantafillou and Jan Breitenmoser. It was the first time that Coach Ian McIntyre deployed the formation since the last time the Orange met the Zips.
Early in the match, the Orange pushed the play, controlling buildup, but they were unable to break through. The squad put pressure on the Akron keeper Ben Lundt, but never really put a challenging ball on. Around the 15th minute, Akron took their first real sustained attack, earning multiple corners in a row that the Orange dealt with. While they were able to defend them, the set pieces were a bit of a problem for the Orange and not a historic strength this season for the squad.
Through the match, Akron continued to move well off the ball, while also keeping possession recycling with quick one-touch passing, designed to break the Orange press. They were also breaking hard through the talent of David Egbo, their star striker. He countered away in the 37th minute forcing a wild challenge from Kamal Miller (that was absolutely necessary), which would have resulted in a penalty, had Amdi Mohamed not slotted home the deflection to give the Zips the 1-0 lead.
Syracuse responded just five minutes later, with Massimo Ferrin breaking to the left side of goal on a counter attack, receiving a pass from Jonathan Hagman, and slotting it left-footed past Lundt to equalize. With the snowy conditions and a 6’6” goalkeeper, the low driven ball was the pattern for success. The Orange pushed hard until the half, but weren’t able to slot anything home, heading to the break tied 1-1.
Through the second half, Syracuse again looked the better attacking side, but weren’t able to finish anything. The Orange really needed to put the ball away, but seemed to not get a full strike on balls they needed to. Per Coach McIntyre, “The second half, it was a sort of cagey affair, we probably had a couple of better chances.” In the 74th minute, Hendrick Hilpert made what could have been a huge save on Mohamed, spilling to Zips forward Marcel Zajak, who struck the ball into the top of the net, pushing the Orange into the hole and forcing a formation change and distinct push moving forward. Late in the match with the Orange pushing, they got hit again on a set piece, from former Orange midfielder, Morgan Hackworth’s head, sealing the contest for the Zips.
The loss ends the Orange season at 7-7-4, and ends the college careers of some names that have been around the program for a good long while. The class of Kamal Miller, Jonathan Hagman, Hugo Delhommelle, Hendrick Hilpert and Jan Breitenmoser, have been to three of Syracuse’s six overall NCAA Tournament appearances. They are a stalwart class that will be tough for coach McIntyre to replace. Congratulations to them on a record setting career in Orange.