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‘I’d pick my squad.’ UK looks to establish own tradition amid soccer heavyweights.

UK soccer gears up for NCAA quarterfinals

Kentucky men’s soccer coach Johan Cedergren and player Tanner Hummel talk about Friday’s quarterfinal against Maryland.
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Kentucky men’s soccer coach Johan Cedergren and player Tanner Hummel talk about Friday’s quarterfinal against Maryland.

Kentucky men’s soccer coach Johan Cedergren came out to practice this week in shorts and a T-shirt, a bit out of place for an outdoor practice with snow on the ground.

The message?

The 2018 NCAA College Cup is in Santa Barbara, Calif.

But first the Cats (19-1-1), the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, must defeat No. 11 Maryland in the quarterfinals Friday at home at The Bell.

“He’s done it before, but he’s crazy for doing that,” said senior Tanner Hummel, who smiled as he appreciated his coach trying to keep things loose during a very important week. “I knew it was going to be one of those days where he’s going to be wild. No, it was pretty cool. The players love seeing that. ... I think that practice was honestly one of the best trainings we’ve had.”

Want proof that UK has a chance to not only win its NCAA Tournament quarterfinal Friday against Maryland, but, maybe, even hoist the College Cup next weekend?

Consider this:

  • Kentucky ranks as both a top-10 scoring offense (fifth) and goals-against defense (second). No other team left in the tournament can say that.
  • Kentucky has not just beaten, but routed the highest remaining seed in the tournament, No. 2 Indiana, 3-0, at The Bell this season. And Indiana could be UK’s next opponent if they both advance.
  • The Hoosiers defeated UK’s next foe, Maryland, twice this season, including in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on penalty kicks.
  • Kentucky has the No. 3 goal scorer in the country in JJ Williams (18 goals). He’s scored more goals than anyone left in the tournament.
  • Kentucky has a top-10-in-the-nation assist man in Kalil ElMedkhar. Only Indiana and Michigan State can say that.
  • Kentucky has the national leader in shutouts this season in goalkeeper Enrique Facusse with 14. A number of other tourney teams, including Maryland, are also in the top 10.
  • Kentucky ended the season at No. 5 in the NCAA men’s soccer RPI. Maryland was No. 12. Possible Final Four opponents Indiana and Notre Dame were Nos. 2 and 6, respectively.
  • Kentucky is 12-0-0 at The Bell this year.
  • In those 12 wins, UK has allowed three goals. It’s scored 34.

Sure, most of the other teams in the tournament have a better pedigree than the Cats. Maryland has three national titles, the last in 2008. Indiana has eight, the last in 2012. Notre Dame won it all in 2013. Michigan State won it twice in the 1960s. Stanford won it three years straight from 2015 to 2017. Heck, Akron won the national title in 2010.

“History is just a point of reference,” Cedergren said. “We might not have the richest history, but we have one of the best teams in the country. We have one of the best attackers in the country. We have one of the best goalkeepers. So, ... as a staff when we sit and compare the other team to us — do we have the better players? And if we have the better players, we’re in a pretty good spot.”

Maryland comes with a record of 10-6-4 and earned a national seed as an at-large team out of the Big Ten.

“Maryland is a great program. They’ve done really, really well. I’m sure it’s going to be a tough game tomorrow,” Cedergren said. “But if I got to pick squads? I’d take my squad.”

Friday

NCAA men’s soccer quarterfinals

No. 11 Maryland at No. 3 Kentucky

When: 6 p.m.

Where: The Bell

Tickets: $10/$5. Available online at Ukathleticstix.com

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