There was a collective sigh of relief amongst the Akron faithful when midfielder Adam Najem (10g, 11a) announced he would be returning for his senior year. The College Soccer News 1st Team All American could have turned pro this offseason, but opted to return to the place he’s called home for the past 3 years.
“Akron’s done so much for me,” said Najem. “I feel like there’s things left unfinished. We want to win a national championship for the best fan base in the country”
The Zips were in grasp of their coveted 2nd national championship last season as the MAC Conference Champs reached their first College Cup since 2010. The Zips fell short in penalty kicks to eventual national champs Stanford, in a game they could have won.
“The final four was a heartbreaker. It just didn’t sit well with me,” said Najem.
While it was a bitter ending to an impressive season, the Zips have turned the page to the upcoming season in which they face the likes of Georgetown, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara. The AK Rowdies are hopeful the rejuvenated squad can reach their 2nd consecutive College Cup. Akron will be one of the likely favorites to win the title and if they do, it will no doubt be in large part due to Najem, who led the team with 31 points in 2015.
The always modest Adam Najem is focused on the upcoming season at hand, but it’s hard to ignore the Clifton, New Jersey native’s game changing talent.
In a sport like college soccer that at times lacks technical and tactical proficiency, it’s a breathe of fresh air to see a player of Najem’s quality making his mark at this level. It helps that the crafty midfielder plays in the perfect system to highlight his playmaking qualities.
It’s the possession based attacking minded system Caleb Porter implemented upon arrival in Akron and that current coach Jared Embick, now entering his 5th year at the realm, has improved on.
“Jared has had an amazing impact on my playing already. It’s the way he sees the game and how he’s changed the way I see the game; in film sessions, and just talking to him. He’s instilled a great philosophy into the team and has a great soccer mind. I wouldn’t want to play for any other college coach in the country.”
It’s obvious Najem is very complimentary of Embick and rightfully so. The New York Red Bulls academy product has always been one of the most promising prospects America has to offer, but his game has matured tremendously since his arrival in Ohio. The natural #10 has become much more cognizant tactically on when and where to attack and you can tell his willingness to work on both sides of the ball has improved. He’s more determined offensively and defensively to make a difference and is almost always the catalyst to the Zips dynamic attack.
These improvements to Najem’s game are what makes him arguably the best player in college soccer entering the 2016 campaign and a Hermann Trophy award favorite.
Despite all the hype, Najem has remained grounded, “It’s nice to even be mentioned, but I’m not here for individual awards. I didn’t go to college for individual recognition. I want a national championship,” stated Najem.
Part of the process of becoming a more well-rounded player and helping the Zips win the title happened this spring when Najem trained with Deportivo La Coruña. It was a chance to challenge himself and see how the European game is in comparison to here in the States.
“It went really well and there was a great overall atmosphere. The guys fight for their lives every training session, competing day in and day out” said Najem.“That’s what I took from Europe. Always try to improve yourself every day.”
This season all eyes will be on Najem, including those of MLS Executives and clubs abroad. Next year, Najem will join the impressive list of Zips in the Pros that includes, DeAndreYedlin, Darlington Nagbe, Perry Kitchen and many others, but it’s just a question of where he will go. MLS Homegrown rules are always confusing including to the clubs themselves, but it appears Najem could be eligible for a homegrown contract with the New York Red Bulls, while a move overseas is a possibility as well. If neither of those options seem tempting enough, Najem looks like a sure fire number one draft pick for the 2017 MLS Draft. Regardless of all the speculation, the former U.S youth national teamer, is concentrated on the current Akron season ahead and will look at his future when the time comes.
“I don’t want to close the door on anyone so I’ll evaluate my options at the end of the season” said Najem. “Hopefully I’m making a big impact wherever I am.”
While the future looks bright for Najem, his focus is 100% on the upcoming season and what he can do to help Akron lift the title. With the plethora of talent from returning players and the incoming freshmen classalong with one of the top coaches in America leading the way, the Zips look poised to make a run.
Zips captain Najem said it the best, “It’s National Championship or bust.”
The 2010 season was unique in that it featured more significant changes among head coaching jobs in college soccer than any year in recent history. All of the new hires were highly regarded and each began their new roles with high expectations but each faced somewhat different challenges in a very competitive environment in which there was little margin for error.
College Soccer News takes a look back at the 2010 head coaching changes, how they have fared, and the impact that they have had on the landscape of college soccer.
Mike Noonan - Clemson - Noonan became the fifth head coach in the seventy-five plus years of the Clemson program in 2010 after a very successful fifteen year tenure as the head coach at Brown University. While at Brown Noonan's teams were 160-77-31 overall, secured ten invites to the NCAA Tournament, and won eight Ivy League Championships.
Noonan inherited a proud and tradition rich Clemson program that had experienced adversity in the past few years that had derailed the program. He faced an uphill battle in terms of making the Tigers competitive once again in the highly regarded Atlantic Coast Conference where the margin for error is very small.
During the 2010, 2011, and 2012 season he began the process of stabilizing the program and putting in place a solid foundation upon which to build. Noonan's efforts to revitalize the program were demonstrated on the recruiting trail as reflected in the 2012 squad that included newcomers freshmen goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, defender Kyle Fisher, forward T.J. Casner, and midfielder Paul Clowes.
In 2013 a Clemson team that featured All-American forward Thomas McNamara secured eleven wins including five in ACC play and the program returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2006 season.
In 2014 any doubts about whether winning ways had returned at Clemson were put to rest when the Tigers took another major step forward by winning the program's first ACC Championship since the 2001 season. They subsequently advanced to the Round of Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. The 2014 team displayed a balanced attack in which fifteen different players contributed a goal.
In 2015 the Tigers took another huge step forward with a 17-3-4 overall record as they advanced to the National Championship contest for the first time in twenty-eight seasons. That team featured seniors T.J. Casner, defender Kyle Fisher, midfielder Paul Clowes and redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell.
Ian McIntyre - Syracuse University - McIntyre became the fifteenth head coach in Syracuse history in 2010. Prior to that he had a very productive seven year tenure as the head coach at his alma mater Hartwick College where he was an NSCAA First Team All-American as a collegiate player.
McIntyre quieltly but energetically began the process of creating a winning culture at Syracuse that included bringing on board players with the talent and the grit needed to compete at the highest level.
Creating change that is sustainable does not occur overnight. McIntyre's efforts were not reflected in Syracuse's win total during the 2010 and 2011 seasons but he stayed the course and it was clear that tangible positive change was taking place. That change began to pay dividends in 2012 when Syracuse was 14-6-2 overall and returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 1984 season. The Orange advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2012 for the first time in the history of the program.
Syracuse moved from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013 and recorded a 10-7-1 overall record during their initial season in the ACC. In 2014 the Orange soared with a 16-4-1 overall record that included a share of the ACC Atlantic Division Title. They were awareded the number nine seed in the NCAA Tournament and again advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Syracuse affirmed that they were for real when the won the ACC Championship in 2015, were awarded the number six seed in the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) for the first time in the history of the program. In McIntyre's six seasons at the helm of the program, the Orange have accomplished more than many thought possible a few years ago.
Todd Yeagley - Indiana University - Yeagley was a four-time All-American selection as a player at IU and was named the Missouri Athletic Club National Player of the Year in 1994. He served as an assistant coach at Indiana from 2003 through 2008 and was the head coach at Wisconsin in 2009.
Yeagley returned to his alma mater as the IU head coach in 2010 and hit the ground running directing the Hoosiers to their first Big Ten regular season title since the 2007 season and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. In 2011 Indiana was 13-4-5, earned the number nine seed in the NCAA Tournament, and again advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
In Yeagley's third season at the helm of the program in 2012, the Hoosiers were 16-5-3 overall and won the National Championship. In 2013 after an eight win season it looked as if Indiana's string of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearences was going to come to an end but the Hoosiers showed a ton of grit when they rallied to win the Big Ten Tournament to earn the conference's automatic berth to keep the streak alive.
Indiana was 12-5-5 in 2014 and was awarded the number five seed in the NCAA Tournament. In 2015 the Hoosiers recorded thirteen wins, they were awarded the program's twenty-ninth consecutive invite to the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
No program in the counry has higher expectations or a more storied history than Indiana. Under Yeagley the tradition is alive and the program continues to be a factor on the national scene.
Andy Fleming - Xavier - Fleming was named the head coach at Xavier in 2010 after serving as an assistant coach at Boston University from 1998 through 2007 under Neil Roberts and at Northwestern University from 2007 through 2009 under Tim Lenahan. He took over the reins of a program that had won a total of five contests including three Atlantic 10 Conference contests the prior two seasons.
In his first season at the helm of the Xavier program the Musketeers improved to 10-7-4 overall which was the largest single-season turnaround in the nation that year. They also had a 5-4-0 mark in conference play which was good for the number six seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They subsequently shocked the conference when they ran the table in the tournament advancing past the top three seeds to secure their first Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title and the program's first ever invite to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2011 Xavier improved to 12-5-4 overall with a 4-3-2 mark in conference play and once again defied the odds by again advancing past the top three seeds to win the conference tournament as the number six seed to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
The upward trend continued in 2012 when the Musketeers set a new program record with fourteen wins and recorded a 6-1-2 mark in Atlantic 10 play. Xavier was awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament and topped Kentucky in the first round to secure the program's first ever win in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Indiana 4-1 in the second round.
Xavier moved from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East Conference in 2013 and recorded a 10-7-2 overall record with a very respectable 6-3-0 mark in conference play.
In 2014 they raised the standard of success to a much higher level than ever before with a 15-6-2 overall record. The Musketeers then topped Monmouth in the first round of play and recorded a stunning second round upset on the road over number five seeded Indiana to advance to the third round for the first time in the history of the program where they were edged by Creighton 2-1 in Omaha.
In 2015 the Musketeers were 12-6-1 overall with signature wins on the road over Creighton and Notre Dame.
During the six seasons that Fleming has been the Xavier head coach the Musketeers have a 73-34-18 overall record, they have recorded six consecutive ten win seasons, and earned four invites to the NCAA Tournament.
John Trask - Wisconsin - Trask was named the Badger head coach in 2010 replacing Todd Yeagley who accepted the head coaching job at Indiana.
Immediately before Trask came to Wisconsin he had a highly successful five year tenure as the head coach at UIC during which the Flames earned three invites to the NCAA Tournament and advanced as far as the Elite Eight. Trask took over the reins of a Wisconins program that faced an uphill battle in terms of becoming a factor in the Big Ten race and a consistent contender on the national scene. The Badgers had not recorded a ten win season in nine years and had been absent from the NCAA Tournament field for fifteen seasons.
Trask has established that both of those objectives, while difficult to accomplish, are attainable. There is now a renewed sense of excitement and direction surrounding the program.
In 2011 Trask directed Wisconsin to a ten win season and a semi-final finish in the Big Ten Tournament. The ten wins were the most the Badgers had since the 2003 campaign when they had an eleven win sesaon. The ten wins included a signature win over a ranked Indiana University team that they had not topped in sixteen seasons.
In 2013, Trask led Wisconsin to a banner season during which they recorded a total of fourteen wins and secured the program's first berth in the NCAA Tournament since the 1995 season. The year was also significant in that Tomis Zadro was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and back A.J. Cochran was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year to become the first duo from the same team to sweep those conference awards.
Dan Donigan - Rutgers - Donigan returned to his native New Jersey in 2010 to become the head coach at Rutgers taking over for veteran Scarlet Knight head coach Bob Reasso who resigned at the conclusion of the 2009 season after twenty-nine seasons at the helm ol fhe program. Reasso was 351-183-71 during his tenure at Rutgers.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Donigan had a very successful nine seasons as the head coach at Saint Louis University during which time his teams were 118-42-23 overall and earned seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Before that he served as an assistant coach at his alma mater Connecticut and was an assistant coach at Saint Louis form 1997 through 2000. He was a three-time All-American forwad as a collegiate player at Connecticut from 1985 through 1988.
In 2011 under Donigan the Scarlet Knights were 10-7-4 overall and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2006 season. The topped Colgate and Boston College before losing to UCLA on the road in the NCAA Tourament to end the season with a top 25 national ranking by the NSCAA and College Soccer News.
In 2015 Donigan directed Rutgers to a banner season that included a 12-7-2 overall record posting the most wins in a single season since the 2001 campaign. They earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament and again finished in the top twenty-five in both the NSCAA and College Soccer News national polls. Donigan was named the 2015 Big Ten Coach of the Year and sophomore forward Jason Wright who netted thirteen goals while contributing five assists was a unanimous selection as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Rutgers looks to be a program that is on solid footing with momentum and a very promising future as a member of the Big Ten Conference.
Patrick Laughlin - Brown - Laughlin served as the head coach at his alma mater Maine in 2007 and 2008 and as an assistant coach at Brown in 2009 before being named the head coach at Brown in 2010 replacing Mike Noonan who accepted the head coacing job at Clemson.
Laughlin hit the ground running guideing Brown to a 12-4-4 overall record in 2010 and a berth in the NCAA Tournament tournament where they topped Boston College and Connecticut to advance to the Sweeet Sixteen for the first time since the 2000 season.
In 2011 the Bears won the Ivy League title and returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the second consecutive season and again advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Laughlin directed Brown to a 13-3-3 overall record in 2012 and an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Brown had a 7-7-3 overall record in 2013 and a 5-6-6 overall record in 2014. The Bears rebounded in 2015 going 4-0-1 in their final five contest to secure a 10-5-2 overall record with a solid 4-1-2 mark in Ivy League play.
Sean Phillips - UIC - Phillips was an assistant coach at his alma mater Indiana from 2000 to 2004 where he was part of two IU teams that advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) as a collegiate player from 1991 through 1994. He served as the top assistant coach at UIC under the direction of John Trask from 2005 through 2009 before being named the Flames fifth all-time head coach in 2010 when Trask became the head coach at Wisconsin.
Phillips is 55-44-10 overall in the six seasons that he has been at the helm of the UIC program. In 2013 the Flames were 16-4-0 overall with a perfect 7-0-0 mark in Horizon League play. Their fifteen wins in regualr season play set a new program record. Phillips was named the 2013 Horizon League Coach of the Year.
In 2015 the Flames were 9-6-3 overall with a 6-1-2 mark in conference play to again win the Horizon League regular season championship. Phillips was named the Horizon League Coach of Year once again in 2015. Despite several very productive seasons, UIC has not appeared in the NCAA Tournament since the 2008 campaign.
Mike McGinty - Saint Louis - McGinty became the sixth head coach at Saint Louis in 2010 replacing Dan Donigan who had accepted the head aach coaching job at Rutgers. McGinty is 67-39-10 during the six seasons that he has been at the helm of the Saint Louis program.
Prior to coming to Saint Louis, McGinity served as the top assistant coach at Virginia druing the 2008 and 2009 seasons under head coach George Gelnovatch and as an assistant coach at Virginia from 1999 through 2007. McGinity played collegiate soccer at Wake Forest from 1991 through 1994 and ranks among the program's career leaders in saves and save percentage.
The Billikens were 9-7-3 overall in 2010 and 6-10-1 in 2011. In 2012 McGinity led the Billikens to the Atlantic 10 Conference title, the program's forty-seventh appearance in the NCAA Tourney, a number eight seed in the NCAA Tournament and a sixteen win seasoon which was the most wins the program had secured in a single campaign since 2001. McGinty was named the 2012 A-10 Conference Coach of the Year and the Middle Atlantic Region Coach of the Year by the NSCAA.
In 2013 Saint Louis was 14-5-2 overall and won the A-10 regular season title and advanced to the championship match of the A-10 Tournament where their season came to an end. In 2014 McGinity directed Saint Louis to a 14-5-2 overall record and the program's forty-eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament where they advanced past Tulsa before losing to Louisville 2-1 in the second round of play. Saint Louis was 8-7-2 overall in 2015.
Other Key Head Coaching Changes
Elmar Bolowich - Creighton - Bolowich resigned as the head coach at North Carolina after twenty-two seasons at the helm of the Tar Heel program to become the head coach at Creighton in 2011.
At UNC Bolowich recorded a total of 280 wins and won the national championship during the 2001 season. Under Bolowich's direction the Tar Heels earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament eleven out of the last twelve seasons that he was the head coach and advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) In 2008, 2009, and 2010.
Bolowich has continued to win big at Creighton directing the Bluejays to an impressive 82-22-9 overall record during the five seasons to date that he has been in Omaha. The Bluejays have advanced to at least the Elite Eight in the NCAA Touranment in four of the five seasons that Bolowich has been the head coach (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015) including trips to the College Cup in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Carlos Somoano - North Carolina - Somoano was named the Tar Heel head coach in 2011 replacing Elmar Bolowich who departed Chapel Hill to accept the head coaching job at Creighton.
Somoano served as the assistant coach at UNC under Bolowich from 2002 through 2010 so was no stranger to the program. Somoano hit the ground running leading the Tar Heels to a 21-2-3 overall record in 2011, the ACC regular and tournament titles, and the National Championship. He was named the 2011 National Coach of the Year as well as the ACC Coach of the Year.
Somoano is 76-19-16 during the five seasons that he has been the UNC head coach which equals a .766 winning percentage. The Tar Heels were 15-2-3 overall in 2015 and once again earned a top ten ranking in the NSCAA and College Soccer News final season ending polls.
North Carolina has earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the past five seasons and has advanced to at least the Quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament four out of the five seasons that Somano has been at the helm of the program.
Jeremy Gunn - Stanford - Gunn was named the head coach at Stanford in 2012 taking over the reigns of a program with a winning tradition but was 6-10-2 overall in 2011 and had been absent from the NCAA Tournament field for two years.
Before coming to Stanford Gunn was the head coach at Charlotte for five seasons and had been very successful as the head coach at Division II Fort Lewis. He also had served as an assistant coach at his alma mater CSU Bakersfield.
At Charlotte his teams' compliled a 64-26-14 overall record that included Atlantic-10 Conference titles in 2010 and 2011 and two appearances in the NCAA Tournament including a stellar 2011 season in which the 49ers advanced to the National Championship match. As a result Gunn was named the 2011 National Coach of the Year.
Under Gunn's direction Stanford was 9-8-1 overall in 2012. They were 10-7-4 overall in 2013 and returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the fist time since the 2009 season. In 2014 the Cardinal continued to improve recording a 13-3-3 overall record. They won the the Pac-12 Championship in 2014 and again appeared in the NCAA Tournament.
In 2015 the Cardinal soared with an 18-2-3 overall record, they won back-to-back Pac-12 Championships and claimed the program's first ever National Championship in men's soccer in the one hundred plus years that the program has been in existence.
The future looks bright for a Standford program that is 50-20-11 overall with a 21-11-8 record in conference play during the four seasons that Gunn has been the head coach.
Jared Embick - Akron - Embick became the seventh head coach in the history of the Akron men's soccer program in December 2012 when he took over the reigns of the program from Caleb Porter who departed to accept the head coaching job of the Portland Timbers after a highly successful seven season tenure at Akron during which the Zips were 123-18-17 overall and advanced to the College Cup in 2009 and 2010. The Zips were 22-1-2 overall in 2010 and claimed the program's first National Championship.
Embick served as the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Akron under Porter from 2007 through 2012. Prior to that he was the head coach at Missouri Baptist University for four seasons during which time the program was 47-21-8 overall.
Embick inherited a very successful program with a ton of momentum but nonetheless he faced the challenge of retooling the program due to a large number of departures due to graduation and early departures to join the professional ranks.
In his first season at the helm of the program in 2013 Embick guided Akron to a 17-4-1 overall record that included the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament titles and the programs 28th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. In 2014 the Zips were 13-6-2 overall and again earned a spot in the NCAA Tourney.
The 2015 season was a banner campaign in which Akron was 18-3-3 overall and advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) where their season came to an end when they were topped by eventual National Champion Stanford 8-7 in a penalty kick shootout after the two teams completed 110 minutes of play tied 0-0.
Akron is a very solid 48-13-6 overall during the four seasons to date that Embick has been the head coach.
Welcome to the most recent edition of "Up Close" on CollegeSoccerNews.com, where host Adam Zundell brings you the voices of the game -- players and coaches -- straight to you, unfiltered, exclusively on CollegeSoccerNews.com.
In today's episode, Zundell sits down to talk with college soccer royalty and one of the top assistant coaches in the country, Creighton's Johnny Torres. Torres reflects on his time as a player and coach with Creighton, including what he's learned under three top mentors: Bob Warming, Jamie Clark and Elmar Bolowich. Torres also talks about the sudden ending to the 2015 season, and having to replace seven starters from last year's team that was ranked No. 1 for most of the season.