Photo by Tony Quinn/ISIphotos.com
By JOHN BOSCHINI
For Akron midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong, his four years at Akron couldn't have ended any better.
After time expired and the Zips' first national title was secured with a 1-0 victory over the Louisville Cardinals, the midfielder from Texas found the man who brought him to Ohio, Akron coach Caleb Porter.
"After the game it was very emotional for me," Ampaipitakwong said. "Me and Caleb were hugging after the game, and he told me when I first came in that Akron would be a national powerhouse by my junior or senior year."
Ampaipitakwong wasn't always so confident. During his senior year, Ampaipitakwong said he would get letters from Akron and laugh it off, not knowing where the school was, much less the specifics of its soccer program.
"But I kept getting calls, and they were saying Caleb wants to build a program around me," Ampaipitakwong said. "He got me up on a visit, and Caleb is such an amazing recruiter. I ended up really buying into his whole philosophy of play."
Ampaipitakwong was one of the first blue-chip recruits for Porter, who took over the coaching position at Akron in 2006. He brought in the 5-foot-8 Ampaipitakwong to adopt a more possession-based style, a philosophy not often seen in the long-ball, physical ranks of college soccer.
Substitutions, a mainstay in college, were largely ignored by the Akron coaching staff. Ampaipitakwong rarely saw the bench, eclipsing 2,000 minutes played in 2010.
In the national championship game, Louisville used 11 substitutions before the Zips used their first, which came in the 79th minute.
"Caleb would leave us in and trust that even when we're tired, we were fitter than the other team," Ampaipitakwong said. "We were always treated like a pro and we were expected to act like pros."
In a few days, the word "professional" will become less of a mantra and more of a job title as Ampaipitakwong prepares for the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. While he might not carry the cache of his five Generation adidas college teammates, Ampaipitakwong is still projected to be a first-round draft pick.
During the MLS Combine, the midfielder will try to showcase his distribution while not ignoring his eye for goal.
"My coaches said that the worst thing you can do at the the combine is show off and dribble," Ampaipitakwong said. "I've never been that person that wants to take on two or three guys. I like to get guys involved and bring out the best in a player."
On draft day, Ampaipitakwong isn't so much concerned about where he'll end up as how it'll be announced. He said that he gives MLS commisoner Don Garber about a 25 percent chance of pronouncing his 14-letter last name correctly. He just hopes Garber does better than an announcer did at one of his youth games.
"He just started, paused halfway through, said 'I'm sorry' and moved on to the next player," said Ampaipitakwong, which is pronounced Am-PIE-pitak-wong. "All of my teammates and coaches thought it was hilarious."