The University of Akron Zips (11-2-1; 2-0-0) beat the Michigan State Spartans (7-5-2; 2-1-2) 4-1 Wednesday night on the back of three Victor Souto penalties at FirstEnergy Stadium at Cub Cadet Field. Akron won their seventh in a row, and ten out of their last 12. Sam Gainford scored his sixth of the year for Akron and DeJuan Jones scored the lone MSU goal in the dying seconds of the match.
“The most important thing is the result,” Akron head coach Jered Embick said of his club’s performance. “What we were really good at tonight was our play in the final third, causing problems with their defensive backs.”
Akron got the penalty in the 25th minute as Richie Laryea was fouled after a Michigan State defender misplayed the ball in the box. Laryea scooped the ball up and before he could get his close-blank shot off, was tripped up from behind. Souto, now with three goals on the year, stepped up to the spot and put it to his right, as the shot had just enough to get under Michigan State keeper Zach Bennett guessed correctly, but was unable to make the stop. It was 1-0 Akron with 20 minutes left in the first half.
Akron got their second penalty of the night in the 35th minute. Akron’s Sam Gainford whipped a corner into the box, where a Michigan defender was guilty of a handling the ball in the box. Souto again picked his right-hand side and unmistakably hit the corner of the net for the 2-0 lead with 10 minutes to play in the first half.
“I have been practicing a lot everyday,” the hat trick hero said. “I think the team needs more of me to step up. I try to not lose my focus. It’s just one at a time.”
The Spartans came into the night scoring 15 goals, while giving up just 11 (giving up four to Notre Dame), compared to Akron’s 28 goals for and 17 against. Spartans led the shots on goal total at the half (5-2), but Akron’s two shots equaled two goals.
In the stretch of the last seven matches, Akron has given up just a pair of goals (one each against Buffalo and UAB) and have collected five clean sheets. On the opposite end, during that stretch, the Zips have gotten 17 goals past opposition keepers.
With an half an hour to go in the match, Akron’s Stuart Holthusen was dragged down by State’s Josh Barnes in the box and gave Akron their unimaginable third penalty kick of the night. Souto, who scored the first two penalties to his right, blasted his third to the left to complete his hat trick. The Zips were plenty ahead at 3-0.
“Victor held his nerve,” Embick said. “It’s not easy to score three in a game,” the coach added. “That’s a tremendous accomplishment and to get a result against a good team, you can see this team have belief. It’s easy to overthink the penalty and he was just worried about executing.”
Just minutes after the penalty, Sam Gainford was fed an excellent pass and beat the Michigan State keeper with his right foot and gave Akron a 4-0 lead. Adam Najem won the ball in the middle of the attacking zone, laid it of for Layrea, who gave Gainford the excellent through pass.
“Our ability in the final third has been great,” Embick emphasized about the winning streak. “This year we are scoring our chances. Once we get a lead on teams, we are a hard to play against.”
Akron was just seconds away from another shutout, but with 25 seconds to go, Jones put the ball in the back of the net.
When pressed about the ability to come out and play well, the coach replied, “I think at the start of games, teams make adjustments. I think that we need to feel out where the space is going to be and once we settle in, then you see us get going. I have to fix it, but we are capable of coming out and pressuring our opponents in the first 15 minutes.”
The Zips restart their Mid-American Conference schedule on Saturday, Oct 24 at Western Michigan, and at West Virginia on Wednesday, October 28. Michigan State go back to their Big Ten fixtures on Saturday against Northwestern at Toyota Park.