Denver Wins Summit League and NCAA Berth, 1-0

Photo: Courtesy Jason Evans

Denver likely ended Omaha’s season Saturday afternoon but, as usual, the contest went down to the final minutes. Kenny Akimatsu gave the Pioneers the lead in the first half, 1-0, but several shots by the Mavericks in the waning moments almost found net. A rocket was launched off Omaha’s Nil Ayats right foot with 21 seconds to go and hit the upper cross bar and ricocheted down toward the goal line but landed in fair play. Denver ran out the clock to win the contest and receive an NCAA automatic bid.

Denver controlled play in the first 45 minutes. Kenny Akimatsu nailed a goal for Denver at 14:14 of the first half from distance to give the Pioneers the lead, 1-0. DU’s Stefan DeLeone caught the left post at 27:17 but the ball bounced back into play. The Pioneers had several other good opportunities in the half but could never capitalize. Denver out-shot the visitors 7-6 for the half.

As temperatures dropped in the second half, Denver’s offense cooled down. The Pioneers were out-shot 8-5 for the period and seemed to be satisfied playing with the lead. As Denver’s defenders dropped back, the Pioneers were able to hold their shape and limit clean looks from Omaha until the final five minutes when the Mavs had three good looks. At 84:44, UNO’s Mitch Hammer sent a rifle-shot high over the goal. Three minutes later, Omaha’s Nil Ayats sent a shot low and just wide left of the Denver goal. Then, with 21 seconds to go, it was Ayats, again, getting a piece of the upper crossbar. All credit to Omaha as they seem to play their very best soccer against the Pioneers – and created problems all over the field in the second half.

DU’s senior defender Scott DeVoss was the Tournament MVP. Denver will learn their NCAA opponent Monday when the pairings are announced. It is never easy winning conference tournaments as the favorite – three conference #1 seeds were eliminated yesterday alone. However, while DU’s defense is solid, they will need to do a better job creating offensive opportunities from the midfield and up-front if they expect to advance in the College Cup against higher ranked squads.