I think it's appropriate to start by giving congratulations to the UMBC Retrievers for their victory on Sunday night. They capitalized when given a golden opportunity from the penalty spot and hung on tight defensively despite a very strong Louisville effort in the second half. Regardless of the fact that Louisville likely should have found an equalizer or more in the second half, UMBC deserves praise for the run that they're on. It would be a great story if they reach the College Cup.
For Louisville, this result is certainly disappointing. They played a relatively even first half and then proceeded to dominate the second half, creating a barrage of chances that should have equaled at least a goal. It's hard to watch a loss in which you can't help but feel like Louisville simply ran out of time, because they certainly weren't grossly outplayed. As this season has taught just as much as any other, though, soccer happens sometimes. It certainly did on Sunday night.
This season was a roller coaster for the Cardinals that was trying at times. They endured one of their longest losing streaks in recent memory in the middle of the season, only to storm back to being seconds away from an ACC Championship. At season's end, they earned a national seed. This Louisville team was nothing if not resilient, and it's unfortunate that their season had to end the way it did on Sunday.
Daniel Keller and Will Vitalis - members of this year's senior class - were freshmen when Louisville went to its first College Cup in 2010, and they both deserve credit for helping bring this program along for the past five seasons.
STORY BREAK: My freshman year at UofL and first season working for the Louisville soccer team was the same as that of Keller and Vitalis', and it was one for the ages (Big East Championship, College Cup appearance, etc.). Of the many things that I'll never forget about that season, one moment in particular stands out to me when thinking about the things this senior class has seen.
We were on the plane back from New Jersey after having won the Big East Championship game at Red Bull Arena, and I remember hearing head coach Ken Lolla talk about a brief conversation he and Tom Jurich had just had on the field during the trophy presentation. At one point in that conversation, Jurich said something to the effect of "I want to do one of these". He was referring to Red Bull Arena, the home of MLS' New York Red Bulls, and while I don't know for certain if that was the exact moment the idea for a new soccer-specific stadium was hatched, I like to think it was at least close.
Roughly four years later (this August), Lynn Stadium opened as the best college soccer stadium in the country. Keller and Vitalis are both great players and people in their own right, and they have seen a tremendous amount of growth and progress during their time at Louisville. Moreover, they've been a part of it all. Congratulations and thanks are due to those two and the rest of the Cardinals' senior class this season for all that they've done for the program. Sunday's post-game comments (link up top) from Keller are worth your time, as he talks about what it has meant to him to be a Cardinal among other things.
(END STORY BREAK)
Coach Lolla mentioned in the post-game press conference that this game will serve as yet another lesson for a team that will continue to grow. Louisville only started two seniors in Sunday's match (Keller and goalkeeper Joachim Ball), which would suggest that the future of the program is still very bright.
There's no question that recruiting (which Lolla mentioned quite literally resumes on Monday) will continue to be helped by Lynn Stadium now being completed and open. Future classes figure to continue to be extremely talented now that Louisville's sustained success on the field is complimented by a state-of-the-art facility. It doesn't hurt that the program has also established a pipeline to professional soccer with multiple Cardinals now residing in MLS (more on that in another post).
With that said, the players that will return next season are reason enough to be excited about what's still to come for Louisville soccer. Names that we've mentioned here all year like Ben Strong, Ricardo Velazco, Tim Kubel, Andrew Brody will likely return. With them will be more mainstays like midfielders Romilio Hernandez and Louie Berra. It's hard to look at the future extensively after a tough loss, but it's worth mentioning that the program is still in great hands with this combination of talent and coaching.
The end of the season came too soon for this season's Louisville team, who rightfully thought that they were capable of more. Still, that's how the game of soccer goes sometimes, and they have nothing to hang their head about. They opened Lynn Stadium in style and left the door open for plenty of future success, which is something to be proud of.
For now, we'll turn our attention elsewhere in the ever-developing world of Louisville athletics. Spring will bring a preview of what to look for on the pitch next August, and when summer comes to an end in 2015, we'll have another edition of Cardinal soccer to talk about. Chances are, it'll be worth looking into.
P.S. I want to take a quick moment to thank everyone for reading and commenting on the Weekend Soccer Updates and everything else this soccer season. We're privileged as fans to have an athletic program at Louisville that gives us something to cheer about in basically every sport.
After having the opportunity to get close to the soccer program and the people in it over the last four years or so, it was a blast to get to write about them for fun every week, and I'm really thankful for the chance to do it here. I hope all of these posts added something and maybe even made a few new fans. Finally, I can't wait to get to talk more about football, basketball and more. Cheers.
P.S.S. Below are the final Goal of the Game Standings. After gridlock for much of the season, Tim Kubel has emerged as the victor. The young German had a pretty incredible freshman season and will be one to keep an eye on going forward. The kid is super talented.
1. Tim Kubel - 3 GOTGs (Game 6 at UK, Game 9 at NC State, NCAA 2nd Rd. vs. St. Louis)
T2. Ben Strong - 2 GOTGs (Game 11 at Notre Dame, Game 12 vs. FGCU)
T2. Ricardo Velazco - 2 GOTGs (ACC Semi vs. Syracuse, ACC Final vs. Clemson)
T2. Andrew Brody - 2 GOTGs (Game 1 vs. Maryland, Game 14 vs. Evansville)
T3. Daniel Keller - 1 GOTG (Game 7 vs. Pitt)
T3. Will Vitalis - 1 GOTG (Game 4 vs. Duke)
T3. Nolan Moore - 1 GOTG (Game 5 at B.C.)
T3. Jerry Ramirez - 1 GOTG (Game 13 vs. Syracuse)
T3. Ivan Gutierrez - 1 GOTG (ACC Quarters at UNC)