It's been a rough couple of weeks for Louisville soccer, who fell to two top-ten teams this past week for their third and fourth straight losses. On Tuesday night, the Cards fell at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers at Lynn Stadium 3-0 (story here, highlights here). Unfortunately, things didn't get easier on Friday when Louisville traveled to top-ranked Notre Dame, but they played much better against the Irish and fell 3-2 in an overtime heartbreaker (story here, highlights here).
So where do they go from here? There's no debating that their positioning for the postseason has taken a hit and is probably less than favorable as it stands, though it helps tremendously that all but one of their losses have come to teams ranked in the RPI's top 30 (full RPI is here). With three weeks left in the regular season for all intents and purposes, the Cards are 39th in the RPI. 48 teams make the NCAA tournament, and there are still plenty of matches against quality opponents left to compile a regular season resume that puts Louisville in a more advantageous spot when November and the ACC tournament roll around.
In other words, yes, it is virtually unheard of for Louisville to lose four games in a row. Losing four games in a row is never good, and there's certainly work to do, but they have the time and the schedule to do it. If history is any indication, Louisville will find a way to right the ship down the stretch and give themselves a chance when all is said and done. Here's a look at this week's schedule, including a snapshot of how each opponent could help the Cards get back to where they want to be by the end of the regular season.
Florida Gulf Coast - Home - Tomorrow night, 7:30 p.m.
Tomorrow night's match marks the beginning of a five-game "homestand" for Louisville, which should be a welcomed change of pace. It's always easier to win at home, and if the Cards can build momentum starting with a win over the Dunk City Eagles, they will be happy with where they stand at the beginning of next month. Louisville should be at least a bit familiar with FGCU as well, as goalkeeper coach Danny Cepero coached the Eagles prior to joining Ken Lolla's staff last season.
Syracuse - Home - Friday night, 7:30 p.m.
NSCAA Coaches' Poll: 4
Hey, look, another top-ten opponent. If you're counting, that will make four that Louisville has faced thus far. Just a few years ago, Syracuse was one of the worst teams in the then-Big East conference and was struggling to win more than five games per season. The turnaround of the Orange soccer program has been remarkable, and now with an ACC schedule and an improved team, they are a legitimate top-ten side. They'll come to Louisville after a Tuesday visit to UConn, where the Huskies have had an uncharacteristically bad season to date.
The Orange are a perfect 5-0-0 on the road this season, and regardless of their result in Storrs, they will be the highest-ranked team Louisville will face for the rest of the year by a long shot. This game also has tremendous Atlantic Division implications, as the Cards can draw even with 'Cuse with a victory on Friday night. Like we said above, all is far from lost. Still, there's no doubt that Friday night's match against Syracuse will be their biggest for the remainder the season.
After this week, there are still four regular season matches left, only two of which are against ACC opponents. Both of those ACC games - hosting Clemson and visiting Wake Forest - are division match-ups as well. For the rest of the season, we'll take a look at the week ahead like this to keep tabs on where Louisville stands in the, well, standings.
To end on a positive note, there is a Goal of the Game point to be awarded after Louisville netted two goals in South Bend on Friday. If you'll head back to the top of this article and roll the Notre Dame highlights, we'll get started in breaking down this week's point winner.
Ben Strong's 88th minute goal narrowly edged Tim Kubel's 67th minute strike, which could have given Kubel a commanding lead with three GOTG points. Strong's goal was a late equalizer, which certainly adds points. It was also a diving header, which is something that always looks cool and is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish on FIFA, meaning it has to be at least that hard in real life. Finally, it was the result of a turnover in the Irish's end that ended in a power finish courtesy of Strong's noggin. All of those are positive things, which is why Strong's fourth goal of 2014 (tied for a team high on the season) is the point winner this week. It's his first point of the year, which further crowds an already-crowded GOTG table (below).
1. Tim Kubel - 2 GOTGs (Game 6 at UK, Game 9 at NC State)
T2. Daniel Keller - 1 GOTG (Game 7 vs. Pitt)
T2. Andrew Brody - 1 GOTG (Game 1 vs. Maryland)
T2. Will Vitalis - 1 GOTG (Game 4 vs. Duke)
T2. Nolan Moore - 1 GOTG (Game 5 at B.C.)
T2. Ben Strong - 1 GOTG (Game 11 at Notre Dame)
There is a lot to be done for this season's Louisville side, and they'll be back to work tomorrow in a match that they should be able to use to build confidence and get a victory. Be there to continue the incredibly strong attendance record in Lynn Stadium's inaugural season, and on your way out make sure to get tickets to Friday's big match against Syracuse. Home field advantage is just as real in soccer as it is in other sports, and Louisville has a pretty good record across the board when its fans show support. See you next week.