Henry Clay graduate Thomas Ueland’s soccer career began as a toddler propped up in the corner of his parents’ living room to watch his older brother and father attempt to score on each other through the dining room chairs.
“Thomas would just watch and watch,” a proud Dr. Frederick Ueland said Wednesday as he and his wife, Micka, got set to watch Thomas’ twin sisters play for Henry Clay. “And then one day, he just stood up. ... And the first thing he did when he walked was he dribbled the ball like eight paces. He didn’t just stumble and fall and accidentally kick it. He actually dribbled the ball.
“And ever since then he hasn’t slowed down.”
Now, Thomas, a sophomore at No. 1 Notre Dame, gets set for his first collegiate game back in his home state as the undefeated Irish (6-0-0) play an Atlantic Coast Conference match in Louisville (4-1-1) on Friday night.
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To say Thomas comes from a soccer family doesn’t quite do the Uelands justice.
His older brother, Walker, captained the 2010 Henry Clay state title-winning team and went on to play at Sewanee College. Sister, Emma, played two seasons at DePauw. And his younger twin sisters, Sara and Elizabeth, start for the Blue Devils as juniors.
His father and an uncle, Craig, played for Stanford University. Uncle Hal played at Pacific Lutheran. Uncle Carl played for Gonzaga.
Growing up in Seattle, Dr. Ueland and his brothers played for their father, the late Dr. Kent Ueland, who was born in Chicago, but spent much of his childhood in Norway before his family returned to the U.S. during World War II. Stanford’s practice field is named Ueland Field after the father and sons Frederick and Craig. Dr. Kent Ueland was on the faculty at Stanford. Thomas could have followed his family at Stanford, as well, but decided to make his own mark at Notre Dame.
“When I grew up out in Seattle my dad was sort of a pioneer of soccer out there …,” said Dr. Ueland, who is chief of the division of gynecologic oncology at UK Healthcare. “We all played in college because he instilled that competitiveness and love of the game.”
As driven as he and his brothers were, Dr. Ueland admires the commitment level his children and their teammates show these days.
“We didn’t play half the number of games or train half as hard or have the understanding of the game that they have now,” he said. “The skill level and the commitment are at least two-fold of what we had then.”
Thomas showed a unique focus and love for the game from an early age, his mother said. He started playing for Lexington Football Club, one of the local youth club teams, at age 8, began playing in the U.S. Olympic Development Program at age 12 and has had a knack for being in the right place at the right time in games.
“I’ve always been blessed with great coaches and great teammates … ,” Thomas, a pre-med student, said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I think part of the reason that I have been able to take (soccer) seriously is that I’ve have had great coaching and great teammates who wanted to take it seriously with me.”
Last year, as a freshman coming off the bench in his first game, Ueland scored the game-winning goal for the then-No. 4 Irish in overtime against No. 14 Indiana.
“It was surreal,” Thomas said. “It was like the second time I’d gotten on (the field). And the speed of play is just so fast compared to club soccer in Kentucky. I got one chance and luckily I was able to finish it.”
But Thomas is quick to note that it was a teammate’s effort that set up the goal.
“Actually, Blake Townes got the assist,” he said. “He just undressed a few guys and put it on a platter.”
Thomas scored four goals his freshman year, including another game-winner against Wake Forest playing as a backup forward for about 27 minutes a game. This year, Thomas continues to come off the bench, but is getting more playing time in a new position, outside midfielder. He’s scored two goals, so far, both against California.
“I’ve gotten a year to see how the coaches want me to play that position, so it’s been a little bit of a change,” Thomas said. “(There’s) a lot of running required. Playing forward it was a lot of quick bursts, a lot of sprints. Wide midfield is a lot more distance. You’ve got to cover a lot of ground and play a lot more defense.”
Much of the Ueland family will be in attendance Friday night. Thomas’ parents try to make it to a game about once a month. But the trip to South Bend, Ind., is about 5 1/2 hours. Having Louisville on the conference schedule a little more than an hour away makes for a more relaxing weekend tailgating with the other parents and maybe getting to see more of Thomas the day after the game.
“Coach (Bobby Clark) keeps them under wraps a little bit, but I do think we’ll be able to see him a little bit more,” Dr. Ueland said. “At a tournament weekend, we’ll get five or 10 minutes and maybe a meal, if we’re lucky.”
Louisville’s only loss this season was a 1-0 road loss to No. 21 Kentucky. The Cardinals lost to the Irish in South Bend a year ago, 3-2 in overtime.
No. 1 Notre Dame at Louisville
Where: Lynn Stadium
When: 7 p.m.
Live video broadcast: WatchESPN.com (online only)