Nagbe Claims Akron's Second Consecutive Hermann Trophy Award

Updated 1/8/2011
Story courtesy of Akron Athletic Communications

ST. LOUIS
- For the second consecutive season, the nation's best collegiate soccer player comes from The University of Akron. This was confirmed Friday night when Zips' junior Darlington Nagbe was presented the Hermann Trophy at the Missouri Athletic Club.

The Hermann Trophy is considered the most prestigious honor in intercollegiate soccer and is the official National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Player of the Year award for Division I competition. Nagbe, a two-time NSCAA All-American, was one of three finalists for the award, along with Indiana's Will Bruin, who was the first runner-up, and Louisville's Colin Rolfe.

"It feels great," said Nagbe about winning the award. "The two other finalists are great players and in a way I was a little bit surprised to win because they had better stats than me. But I'm grateful for the honor especially because any one of my teammates could have been up here accepting this award instead of me."

Nagbe, a native of Lakewood, Ohio, earned the prestigious recognition after Teal Bunbury, who earned his first cap with the United States full national team last November, became the first player in UA history to win the award a year ago. In all, Akron is just the fifth school in the history of the men's player of the year award to record consecutive winners and the first since Virginia in 1995-96.

Nagbe also represents the third UA finalist in as many years for the Hermann Trophy as current Major League Soccer star Steve Zakuani was the first runner-up for the signature crystal ball following the 2008 season.

"Having three different players in three consecutive years make the final three - and two win it - says a lot about the talent we have and the talent we're developing," said UA head coach Caleb Porter. "This has been a magical season and this award is the icing on the cake. I'm really happy for Darlington because it couldn't have happened to a better kid. He's worked so hard for this."

Nagbe, the 2010 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, led Akron to its first team national championship in any sport last December in Santa Barbara, Calif., with a 1-0 victory over Louisville. The skillful striker paced the Zips' vaunted attack with a career-high 13 assists, which was ranked seventh among all Division I players. Moreover, six of Nagbe's helpers set up game-winning goals for Akron, which averaged 2.56 goals/game as a team (ranked third nationally).

"Darlington's not necessarily a guy people will appreciate based solely on stats," Porter said. "But if anyone comes to see him play, you notice his quality, his gifts and talents. You'll see him do things that nobody can do. I can honestly say that of all the college players I've coached, he does things in practice and game-in and game-out that I've never seen anybody do.  And it's the subtle things: the touches, the change of pace, the balance, how he gets out of pressure. He's a playmaker. Playmakers aren't always looking to score goals, they're looking to make plays; and Darlington makes plays through his possession, his vision and his touches. He was a key player for us and a big part of our success."

Nagbe's chemistry with first-year Jamaican striker Darren Mattocks was key to the Zips' attack up top as the two combined for 25 goals, including eight game-winners, and 18 assists. Nagbe, who finished fourth on the team with seven goals, was named to the College Cup All-Tournament Team and earned All-American status from College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer.

"Darlington and Darren were a lethal combination," Porter said. "It was the perfect tandem because Darren's always looking to get behind, stretch the field and go to the goal; and Darlington's going to check, hold the ball, link to the midfielders and also roll, drive and slip Darren. Darren's working the space behind the back four and Darlington's working the space in front of the back four. That made it very difficult for teams to deal with."

Nagbe was one of five Akron underclassmen to sign professional contracts with Generation adidas last month and will forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the 2011 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, which will be held in Baltimore, Md., on Jan. 13. Live Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, starting at Noon (EST).

Each of UA's previous two Hermann Trophy finalists did not wait long to hear their names called at the MLS draft as Zakuani was selected No. 1 overall in 2009 and Bunbury went No. 4 overall in 2010. Nagbe is expected to follow suit.

"It's been neat to see those three guys, who all played together and were friends, grow and develop," Porter said. "I think Steve paved the way and inspired Teal and Darlington to follow. Then when Steve left, Teal emerged. When Teal left, it was Darlington's time to step up and now they're going to all play in the MLS together."

With a brand of play that is attractive and attack-oriented, yet effective on both sides of the ball, the Zips once again took the college world by storm in 2010 - earning a pair of shutout road victories over No. 4 North Carolina (3-0) and No. 3 Wake Forest (2-0) - in the first weekend of the season. UA then pushed its shutout streak to 11 consecutive games - matching an NCAA record - with a 4-0 rout of No. 2 Tulsa in September before 4,744 fans at Lee R. Jackson Soccer Field. A 1-0 victory over No. 9 Creighton and a 7-1 rout of Michigan highlighted the remainder of the regular season as the Zips finished the year with just one loss to its name.
 
By running the table with a perfect 13-0 record at home, Akron matched another Division I milestone, extending its home unbeaten streak to 39 games (38-0-1), as it dispatched West Virginia, Indiana and California to earn a trip to the College Cup for the second consecutive year. In addition to winning the first team national championship in school history, the Zips (22-1-2) also became just the third program to do so in Mid-American Conference history - and the first in 45 years.

The Missouri Athletic Club has been presenting college soccer's players of the year awards since 1986. The MAC was established in 1903 as an athletic, dining and social club. It has a "Platinum Club of America" status, which is awarded to the top private clubs in the country.

Based in Kansas City, Kan., the NSCAA is the largest coaches' organization in the world. Since its founding in 1941, it has grown to include more than 30,000 members who coach both genders at all levels of the sport. In addition to a national rankings program for colleges and high schools, NSCAA offers an extensive recognition program that presents nearly 10,000 individual awards every year. It fulfills its mission of coaching education through a nationwide program of clinics and week-long courses, teaching more than 6,000 soccer coaches each year.