Adversity usually produces one of two results. Where Louisville men's soccer is concerned, the result is usually positive, and last week was just another testament to the resolve that the program always seems to possess. On Tuesday, they broke a four-game losing slide with what Ken Lolla called a "gritty" 2-1 victory over Florida Gulf Coast. That result was important to set the stage for another home match against #2 Syracuse, where more grit was required to knock off the Orange.
For your reference, here are the FGCU highlights and recap followed by the Syracuse highlights and recap. Both recaps include some great post-game sound from Coach Lolla and players as well that is worth a listen.
Last week was pivotal for a few reasons, so let's get to them.
1. Breaking the streak
There are much worse things than losing four games in a row to teams that could easily end up in the NCAA tournament, but for Louisville, it's highly uncharacteristic regardless. They returned to their winning ways and started the road to a strong finish of the regular season. This was brought up last week, but their performances against FGCU and Syracuse combined with their schedule for the remaining four games of the season sets them up nicely to be where they'll want to be heading into the postseason tournaments.
2. Speaking of the postseason tournaments, the ACC Championship will come first...
... and Friday's win against Syracuse was a huge (huge huge huge) result for seeding and Louisville's conference title hopes. The win put them in a three-way tie atop the Atlantic Division with the Orange and Clemson, but more importantly put them in control of their own destiny in the conference. With a win over Syracuse and Clemson yet to come (this week, we'll get to them in a bit), the Cards can win the Atlantic if they win their remaining two division games. Winning the division is what Lolla and his team write down at the beginning of every season as the first step towards the ultimate goal, and it's firmly within their reach if they keep rolling.
3. Good RPI are always, well, really good
They don't get much bigger than the victory over Syracuse, who were #4 in the RPI before the game and only fell to #7 after the loss. Louisville, on the other hand, was 39th heading into the match and enter this week #24 (full RPI is here). Looking ahead, they'll have a couple more chances to get top-50 victories when they play their final ACC matches of the season.
All of these things have a domino effect for obvious reasons. A good finish leads to a favorable ACC tournament seed while boosting RPI for the NCAA tournament as a byproduct. Success in the ACC tournament boosts RPI even more (and results in some important hardware), which ultimately looks good to the selection committee and should lead to home games in the NCAA tournament. Home games in the NCAA tournament for Louisville have meant deep runs in the past, and that's what we're all looking for in the end, right?
After getting a chance to watch the Syracuse game in its entirety, it's clear that Louisville is finding themselves as a team again. When a team with such considerable talent and exceptional coaching falls on hard times, it's not about if they'll pull themselves out of it, it's a matter of when. That "when" appears to be now for the Cards, as they were able get back on the winning side against FGCU and went on to assert their style against the Orange for the better part of the game.
From here, they face another week with a similar make-up from a scheduling standpoint. It begins tomorrow with a should-win match and will culminate with another important ACC match on Friday. Here's a look at what's ahead:
Evansville - Home - Tomorrow night, 7:30 p.m.
The Purple Aces have struggled this year and only have one road win to their name. They're coming off a 5-1 loss at Kentucky, which sheds a little bit of light on how they've played this season to date. Really, Louisville should be able to use this game to continue to build momentum and work on what they feel they need to work on. A solid effort from Louisville will result in a decisive victory, which is exactly what they need as they settle into a rhythm in the middle of a long stretch at home. Plus, tomorrow's meeting will be Louisville's first opportunity to avenge a 2001 loss at Evansville. Never forget. A full preview and notes can be found here.
Clemson - Home - Friday night, 7:30 p.m.
Here's the aforementioned big match of the week. Clemson's RPI is obviously strong, and as we mentioned, they're currently in a three-way tie with Louisville and Syracuse atop the Atlantic. Louisville can change that with a victory, which would be big for a multitude of reasons. The Tigers are 3-3-0 on the road this year, so they'll bring a significant test to Lynn Stadium on Friday. It'd be worth being there to help Louisville continue to lead the nation in attendance average (4,096). If you can't make it, the match will be the last of the season that will be broadcast on WatchESPN.
Finally, it's time to take a moment to hand out two Goal of the Game awards from a week of wins. We first go to the FGCU highlights, where we find Ben Strong taking home his second straight GOTG honors after a sound finish in the middle of the six-yard box after good movement and service from Andrew Brody. Brody was in a good spot to make his way down the left side after a turnover, which resulted in a beauty into the box and Strong's team-leading 5th goal of the season.
Flip on the Syracuse highlights, where Jerry Ramirez gets his first GOTG point for his overtime winner on a header off of a whipping Tim Kubel free kick. It's worth watching 10-15 times. Ramirez was a quality substitution for Ken Lolla in multiple ways on the night, but none bigger than this acrobatic re-direction for the victory. Ramirez is a model human being, and seeing him have continued success is a lot of fun. He deserves every bit of it.
The standings are crowded further, but the big movement this week is Strong storming up the leaderboard after making his first appearance just last week. Here's where we stand.
T1. Tim Kubel - 2 GOTGs (Game 6 at UK, Game 9 at NC State)
T1. Ben Strong - 2 GOTGs (Game 11 at Notre Dame, Game 12 vs. FGCU)
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. Jerry Ramirez - 1 GOTG (Game 13 vs. Syracuse)
Another big pair of games is ahead for Louisville soccer, who appear to be on their way to peaking at the perfect time. Time will tell, but the talent on this team is undeniable, and if they get on a roll now, they'll be dangerous when the postseason comes around. While we wait for Florida State next Thursday, head out to Lynn Stadium this week and support the other footballing Cards.