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Sep 11, 2008

Zips prove they're here to stay

When you think of the top programs in college soccer over the past three or four years, names such as Indiana, Maryland, UCSB and Wake Forest inevitably spring to mind.

Not only would few people mention the University of Akron in the same breath as any of those championship-winning teams, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Ohio who would consider the Zips among college soccer's elite.

That's fair enough. While Akron has put together a few impressive seasons, until they play under the bright lights at a College Cup, most will consider them pretenders rather than legitimate national contenders.

But despite its failure to reach a final four, Akron has quietly put together one of the strongest setups in America. In 2005, the Zips led the nation in scoring, goals-against average and winning percentage, and they spent a full month atop the polls -- becoming the first Mid-American Conference school in any sport to earn a No. 1 ranking. Plus, they didn't lose a game until they were ousted by eventual champ Maryland in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.

Things looked bleak when coach Ken Lolla parlayed that success into a new big-money gig at Louisville following the breakthrough season.

But new boss Caleb Porter has kept the good times rolling at Akron. Last year's MAC coach of the year has posted a 28-9-3 record in his two seasons, winning the conference title in both years. The Zips also won the MAC's postseason tournament in 2007 before falling to South Florida, in OT, at the dance.

NCAA Scoreboard
This season, ESPNsoccernet brings you all the scores from every men's and women's NCAA Division I game.

Click here for all the action.

Fast forward to 2008. Akron sits second in the latest NSCAA rankings. They trounced a good Notre Dame team 3-0 in the season opener, the only setback yet for the No. 5 Irish. With sophomore forward and Hermann Trophy candidate Steve Zakuani leading the way, could this be the year the Zips make a deep tourney run? Don't be surprised if it happens.

College production line

For all the smack-talk we hear about how bad colleges are at producing professional-quality players, some pretty good ones have come out of the NCAA in recent years. Like who, you ask? How about the past four MLS Rookie of the Year winners:

2004 -- Clint Dempsey (Furman)

2005 -- Michael Parkhurst (Wake Forest)

2006 -- Jonathan Bornstein (UCLA)

2007 -- Maurice Edu (Maryland)

We're going to tackle this very subject in an upcoming story, but for now, it got us wondering which college program could boast the best all-pro first XI.

Maryland and Wake Forest have enough active pros covering each position to come close, but UCLA is tops, hands down. Current U.S. international Marvell Wynne couldn't even crack the following lineup, and you'll see why we think this "Bruins in the Pros" team would have a real shot of hoisting the MLS Cup this year.

GK: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa, England)

D: Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew)

D: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes, France)

D: Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards)

D: Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA)

M: Eddie Lewis (Los Angeles Galaxy)

M: Peter Vagenas (Los Angeles Galaxy)

M: Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96, Germany)

M: Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus, Denmark)

F: Chad Barrett (Toronto FC)

F: Ante Razov (Chivas USA)

While the 2008 Bruins are off to another slow start (1-2-1), a different West Coast team is steadily climbing the charts. Sixth-ranked Cal smashed visiting Cornell 5-0 last Friday before knotting SMU 1-1 on Sunday. The Bears face their second big test of the season (they've already beaten Maryland) when they travel to face a Santa Clara side desperately trying to redeem itself after it started 1-3 -- including last week's loss to Wisconsin -- and fell from the rankings entirely. Cal is led by sophomore forward Andrew Wiedeman, who's leading the Pac-10 with seven points.

Gotta give some love to 5-0 Georgetown. The Hoyas debuted at No. 20 this week, joining top-ranked Wake as the only squad in the polls sporting a perfect record four matches in. On Wednesday, they defeated Stony Brook to improve to 5-0. After just two rounds of play, there are only a few unbeaten, untied teams remaining in the Top 25. Creighton, UCSB and Loyola (Md.) are the others.

What to Watch for

Portland is looking to end a two-match losing streak when it hosts Washington at Merlo Field on Friday (FSC, 11 p.m. ET). Meanwhile, the Huskies will be after a third straight win to finish its five-game road swing. UW trounced Charleston (4-1) and Furman (4-0) at the latter's tournament last weekend.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.

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