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Lynn Stadium opens with Louisville perfection

Friday night at Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium was a lot of things. It was filled with fanfare and electricity well before any soccer was played. It was a celebration of college soccer and Louisville all in one. It was the culmination of an extraordinary amount of hard work by an extraordinary amount of people in and around the Louisville athletic department.

Yet perhaps the most exciting part of all was that it was just a beginning. A good one, too.

Yes, it was a historic moment in Louisville soccer history that likely won’t ever be exactly matched again. There will never be another grand opening quite like Friday night. After all, it’s not every day you get to see two big fireworks shows in one night of college soccer.

What will happen again is a packed house of over 7,000 to see college soccer in Louisville. Whether it’s another opening night, a NCAA playoff game or even a College Cup somewhere down the road, Lynn Stadium is a destination, and it will be packed again.

They may not always come on the same night like they did Friday, but there will be many more Louisville wins, too. Both the men’s and women’s programs are destined for plenty of success as new members of the ACC. And while the future is certainly bright and exciting, Friday night was an important moment in itself that deserves to be celebrated and remembered. So let’s take a moment to do that.

After the first round of thunderous fireworks had settled, the Louisville women kicked off the newest chapter in Louisville soccer history as the sun set behind the west goal. The setting sun produced a couple of rare fashion statements – Ole Miss goalkeeper Kelly McCormick opted for a ball cap while a few Cardinals went with eye black – but didn’t appear to benefit or harm either side as the first half ended without a goal.

"It probably took us about 25 minutes to settle into the excitement of tonight, but after we got a rhythm and slowed things down, I thought we were the better team," said head coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes.

She was right. Louisville had the lion's share of possession for most of the match, including those first 25 minutes. They created most of the chances and dictated play, and it certainly felt like a Louisville goal was on its way going into half time. It wouldn't be long before they made good on that feeling.

Cardinal freshman Chatham DeProspo broke the silence in the 57th minute with a clinical finish on a low driven cross from Kari Weinland for what would ultimately be the lone goal in Louisville's 1-0 victory. DeProspo is one of five freshmen that cracked Ferguson-Dayes’ lineup, but the youth didn’t show despite the size of the stage.

"Coach told us to just focus on the moment, so everything around me was irrelevant," said DeProspo. "It’s the most amazing feeling."

Paige Brown had to make three saves for the Cardinals, but looked comfortable and decisive in goal. Going forward in a tough ACC schedule, her ability to replicate Friday’s performance could go a long way in helping Louisville have early success in the conference.

"Paige was absolutely fantastic," said Ferguson-Dayes. "This year, she’s been able to match athleticism with timing and reading the game, and that’s allowed her to have success."

Friday night was the Louisville women's third match of the season, and they improved to a 2-1-0 mark. Kentucky is next on the docket for the Cards, as the Wildcats will visit Lynn Stadium this Friday night at 6 p.m. It'll be another double-header with the men taking on Cornell afterwards. You may want to attend that one as well.

Once the sun set, the ninth-ranked Louisville men’s squad was greeted on the field by a raucous crowd that was nearly overflowing. There was an on-field ceremony with Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn and family, an intro video showcasing the international flavor on this year’s roster (Germany, Canada, England, Mexico and Senegal are all represented) and a warm welcome as the lineup was introduced.

Then there was a game between two top-ten teams that lived up to its billing. For all intents and purposes, Maryland seemed to serve as Louisville’s first taste of ACC soccer even though they left the spot in the conference that the Cardinals now occupy.

Louisville created plenty of chances early. As expected, Andrew Brody, Ricardo Velazco and Will Vitalis were the catalysts of the attack early and often. In the 10th minute, Brody flew down the left side on a long run and found Velazco in the box for a chance. Minutes later, a Maryland turnover nearly turned into a Louisville goal as Romi Hernandez rocketed a strike off the crossbar from about 25 yards.

If nothing else, the first half was a good first look at everything that makes Louisville tick. They pressured as a team and created turnovers in good spots, had most of the ball and found some chances against a very talented Maryland team. In a big moment under the spotlight, the Cardinals stayed true to form.

More celebration came at halftime, recognizing Louisville soccer alums and shooting off more fireworks. A lot more fireworks. All right, aside from seeing some good soccer, Friday night was just a lot of fun. More on that later.

Back on the pitch, it didn’t take Louisville long to build off of the chances they created in the first half. A goal came for Louisville in the 54th minute, and you’ll never guess where it came from. Vitalis played Velazco down the right side, who drove a flawless cross to the back post that was headed home to the top corner by Brody on a perfectly timed run. It was the first game of the season, but it was as if that movement had already happened a million times for the Louisville trio.

"I saw (Velazco) going down the line, and I’ll take Ricky one-on-one with anybody, so I knew if I made the run he was going to play it. He put it on a dime and the least I could do was to finish it," said Brody. "It was a perfect ball."

Maryland put pressure on the Cards later in the second half, showing why they’re consistently regarded as one of the best programs in the country. Late in the proceedings, the play got physical, resulting in a plethora of yellow cards and ultimately a red card for Maryland’s Tsubasa Endoh.

Backed by the endless energy of the sold out crowd, the Cardinals were able to weather the storm of a spirited Terrapin effort, securing their first win of the season and a perfect maiden voyage for Lynn Stadium. It was everything Louisville wanted out of the evening, but in many ways, it was much bigger.

"The University of Louisville had a big night for college soccer, and we’re grateful to be a part of it," said Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski. "This is the high tide that is going to raise all of the ships."

There’s no doubt that Maryland and other top programs won’t be far behind in exploring options for new facilities for soccer. After all, Cirovski’s Terrapins have been standard bearers in the game for much of his tenure. Louisville arrived on the national scene well before Friday night, but it’s clear now that the Cardinals are now the gold standard for facilities in the game. Friday night's result proved again that they’re firmly in the top echelon on the field, too.

In Louisville, we use Howard Schnellenberger’s famous quote liberally, but it’s usually proven to be in truth. Louisville soccer is no different, and with the momentum of a new stadium and a new conference, a national championship is the logical next step. Truly, the only variable is time.

Again, it’s easy to get carried away with the allure of the ultimate destination. In the present, Friday night was a massive accomplishment, and it went off without a hitch. Two games, two wins and one spectacular show.

"It was awesome," said Louisville head coach Ken Lolla. "It’s a good time to be a Cardinal."

The best is yet to come.


A personal note: I spent my entire college experience around Louisville soccer working for the men’s team from the time I was a freshman, and Friday night was an incredible feeling on many levels. You’re not supposed to cheer in a press box, but I’d be lying if there wasn’t at least a half fist pump when DeProspo and Brody scored the first goals in the new stadium for their respective teams.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know the coaches and players of both teams, and to see this night finally come for them after years of hard work and planning was truly awesome. I owe a lot to coach Lolla and his family and staff, and know first hand that coach Ferguson-Dayes means the same to the many people she’s coached and worked with. They all deserved this moment, and while the ACC will test both programs more than maybe ever, they’ll both be exciting to watch. At the very least, you have to see the stadium in person. Moreover, these teams are going places and deserve your support. Check ‘em out.