Western Michigan men’s soccer finished its season with a 4-3 win over Akron Sunday at the WMU Soccer Complex.
The Broncos got out to a quick start, scoring goals in the third, 13th and 26th minutes to take a 3-0 lead. The first goal of the match was Eric Connerty’s second goal of the year after having five goals in 2019. His goal was assisted by a great pass from Mike Melaragni to put the Broncos up 1-0.
“I think Mike has really grown in our program year to year to year,” head coach Chad Wiseman said. “I think it all starts with his work, his engine does not stop. And then you look at his athleticism, he’s 6’3, physically strong, runs like a deer. That’s a very unique skill set in the game of soccer… It’s not a mistake that he ends up on the scoresheet every single game.”
Melaragni scored himself for the second goal, his sixth of the year which is good for second-most in the MAC. He was assisted by Caden Jackman as WMU doubled its early lead. The Broncos put Akron on blowout watch with a third goal when Dylan Sing scored in the 26th minute with an assist from Brennan Creek. It was Sing’s fifth goal of the season, putting him in third place in goals scored in the conference.
The Zips finally got on the board with Dyson Clapier scoring in the 41st minute with an assist from Jason Shokalook. Isaac Walker was making his presence known in net in spite of allowing the goal, with three first half saves including a tremendous diving stop in the 32nd minute.
At halftime, WMU held a 3-1 lead in spite of Akron having a 9-5 advantage in shots. All five of the Broncos shots had been on net compared to just four of Akron’s shots going on goal. The Zips had three corner kicks to zero for WMU as well.
Akron continued fighting back early in the second half as Diogo Pacheco netted a penalty kick to cut the deficit to 3-2 in the 47th minute. Creek would re-add some padding to the Broncos’ lead in the 64th minute with his first goal of the season. That pushed WMU’s advantage to 4-2 and was assisted by Sing and Daniel Nimick.
Walker made another big, diving save in the 58th minute while the Bronco lead was just one goal to prevent Akron from going on a 3-0 run, and the Broncos started playing to kill time in the last 15 minutes of the match holding a two-goal lead.
“Isaac Walker is the best goalkeeper in the Mid-American Conference,” Wiseman said. “He’s proved that day in, day out. If you’re going to beat an Akron team, I don’t care if it’s 2021 or any year, you’re going to need your goalkeeper to play well. Over the course of the home-and-home against Akron he’s been fantastic.”
Akron was able to net a goal in the 85th minute to cut WMU’s lead to 4-3 as Daniel Strachan scored with an assist from Johnny Fitzgerald, but the Broncos were able to keep possession of the ball for much of the final five minutes and run out the clock for the win.
The Zips were whistled for offsides penalties nine times in the match, which Wiseman said was part of the game plan to keep Akron’s forwards in check.
“Akron’s got some really dynamic, game-changing attacking players,” Wiseman said. “That (drawing them offside) was part of the way that we thought we could slow them down. You have to give credit to our back line, they were organized, they were tight, and they were together. That helped us in a lot of those moments.”
The Broncos finished the match with 11 shots, eight on goal compared to 17 shots and eight on goal for the Zips. WMU earned four corner kicks to six for Akron and committed 12 fouls to Akron’s nine. Five yellow cards were issued in the final 15 minutes and a total of seven were given throughout the match, but no players were red carded.
Western Michigan needed a win and a Bowling Green loss to win the MAC, and the Falcons earned a 2-1 win over Northern Illinois to secure the conference championship. In spite of that, Wiseman feels his team deserves a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re the only team in the Mid-American Conference that beat all five other schools in the conference,” Wiseman said. “The MAC is the number one conference by RPI in the entire nation and we finished tied for first. We should be in there (the NCAA tournament).”
All six MAC schools rank within the top 100 among 187 Division-I schools in RPI following the latest update on Thursday of this week. WMU ranked 33, one spot behind Akron at 32 entering this final match of the season. 36 teams will be selected to compete in the College Cup tournament, with the selections announced Sunday and the tournament beginning April 29.