When Kentucky and Louisville meet in any sport, records don’t matter. Rankings don’t matter. But when both teams come in undefeated and ranked in the top 25, it can be a lot of fun.
The No. 19 Cats and No. 8 Cards staged a classic Battle of the Bluegrass in men’s soccer Tuesday night that ended in a 2-2 tie after two overtimes in front of 2,954 fans at Lynn Stadium .
Kentucky can certainly say it held its own with a top team on its own turf. Louisville (3-0-1) made a run to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight last year. Kentucky (3-0-1) exited in the second round of the NCAAs.
Both teams returned a talented core, but Kentucky has been largely unheralded until its run of three wins, two in overtime, to open the season. The Cats were picked to finish a middling fourth in Conference USA. Their hot start impressed coaches enough to gain entry into the top 25 poll this week. What does a tie at No. 8 Louisville mean?
“You never know. Coaching is like herding cats,” said UK Coach Johan Cedergren, who has led Kentucky to four NCAA Tournament appearances in five years. “I think people looked at all the seniors that we lost … and said, ‘well, with them gone, where’s Kentucky going to end up?’ We’ve done a good job of restocking and we have some players ready to take over.”
One of those players is sophomore attacking midfielder Connor Probert, who lined up a free kick with Kentucky trailing 1-0 15 minutes into the game. The Cardinals cut open UK’s defense when Adam Wilson’s entry pass found Bryan Station product Mohamed Thiaw alone just outside the 6-yard box. Thiaw calmly put in the first score of the game at the 13:55 mark.
Probert answered at 15:58 with a curling strike into the top right corner of the goal on the free kick about 25 yards out.
“We needed it,” Probert said. “If we didn’t respond quickly things could have gotten on top of us a little bit. It was nice to bounce back straight away.”
Probert, who’s played internationally for his native New Zealand at the U19 level, agreed a tie at Louisville means something for his team.
“Physically going into overtime, with that team, we were, maybe not more in shape, but I think we showed desire and I think we wanted it a bit more,” he said. “It kind of shows to the critics that put us fourth in Conference USA that we’re going to do something special this year.”
Kentucky took the lead on a blazing pass across the face of goal from wingback Tanner Hummel, who hit the onrushing Mikkel Pederson at the far post. His left-footed stab put the Cats up 2-1 at 28:41.
With less than five minutes left in the half, the Cardinals took advantage of their own free kick from about 25 yards out to tie the game. In the scramble from initial service into the box, the ball deflected off a UK defender and fell into the path of Cody Cochran, who made no mistake from point-blank range and tied it 2-2 at 41:33.
“I think it was tough to give up a goal five minutes before half,” Cedergren said. “We were a little impatient, a little undisciplined with some of the fouling, especially close to our 18. That’s going to cause you problems against a good team like Louisville.”
A frenzied first half gave way to a more defensive second with neither team really creating many chances in the second frame. Louisville forced a diving save from UK freshman keeper Enrique Facusse on a free kick about midway through the second half and tested him with another shot he managed to tip over the bar just before the end of regulation.
“Enrique and the back three did fantastic,” Cedergren said. “They solved most of the problems they were asked to solve. I think once the game got into overtime, I thought we were the team pushing, and we were really looking to score. In the end, a draw away from home against Louisville was OK.”
Louisville outshot the Cats 9-3 with a shots-on-goal advantage of 6-2.
“We limited them to three shots on the night, two of them being goals. We have to do a better job of taking care of our chances as well,” said Louisville Coach Ken Lolla. “On three shots, we probably should get a better result on the game and didn’t tonight.”
Cedergren said the field at Bell Soccer Complex looked to be in good shape after the UK-U of L women’s game played Friday. The game was played in a steady rain that waterlogged the surface at times and made conditions a bit choppy. Kentucky comes home after a three-game road stint on Friday.
▪ Kentucky leads the all-time series with Louisville, 10-7-5.
▪ Facusse earned Conference USA’s award for defensive player of the week. He allowed one goal in Kentucky’s first three games.
UAB at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Wake Forest at Louisville
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday