We go to sporting events to see points scored and games won. In most American-born sports, we usually get what we want. Basketball, football and baseball (well, sometimes) give us the points we crave and (almost) always give us a winner and a loser.
In soccer, sometimes soccer happens. Friday night at Lynn Stadium, neither Louisville team managed to score a goal in double-header action. The women’s team fell 2-0 to Kentucky, while the men went all the way through two overtimes before tying Cornell in a scoreless draw.
I wanted to get out of the press box for my second trip to Lynn Stadium last night so I could be a fan and take it all in from a different perspective. So I went to the game and sat there like a fan. Here’s what I saw/thought/felt:
It’s still going to take a little while to get used to the fact that Lynn Stadium is a stadium built specifically for college soccer. I had that thought again when I walked in, and I’d imagine it will happen a few more times. What grabbed me right away was the crowd in attendance for the first game of the night. The announced attendance later in the evening was 5,749, another over-capacity figure. Lynn Stadium is a big place, big enough to feel a bit cavernous if there aren’t a lot of people there. It was full.
Kentucky fans were obviously there for the women’s tilt. Students took a bus to the game and sat on the berm behind the west end line. I sat on the berm as well, just far enough away to not hear them. Still, they seemed fine to me until I had to walk through them after the game to use the restroom. Granted, they were mid-celebration, much like Louisville fans would have been with a win over their archrival, but you can all understand how annoying it was. I don’t have to explain it; we’ve all been there.
About the women’s game, Kentucky is usually a good side, and they were again Friday. They were athletic enough up top to really pressure Louisville’s back four late in the match, and were able to break a scoreless tie in the 87th minute. The Wildcats’ athleticism is ultimately how they created a break on the counter attack and scored their second goal minutes later.
To be fair, Louisville had done well to fend off the Kentucky attack that featured some impressively skilled players for the entire match. Not to sell the Cardinals short, they created their fair share of chances as well. Freshmen forwards Alison Price and Kaela Dickerman showed why head coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes has so much faith in her freshman class this season. Both looked dangerous as attackers for the Cards and should be two of many freshmen to watch for the rest of the year.
Ferguson-Dayes has talked at length about how young her squad is, so while there will be growing pains this season, particularly in a difficult ACC, you can see where the promise is just as well. They’ll have a quick turnaround for their next match against Miami (OH) Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
Following the women’s match, an important thing happened. In every soccer fan’s march to fandom, one must experience a 0-0 draw and walk away from it unscathed. This had already happened to me many times before, but it’s productive for even the most experienced of soccer fans.
The tie is a unique part of soccer that, I’ve heard, is fundamentally un-American. It makes sense in the grand ideology of American sports. No other prevalent sport in our country ends in ties. You're right, NFL games can end in a tie, but it almost never happens, so it really doesn’t count. In America, we play to win. And if we lose trying, well it’s more honorable than a tie, or something. For some reason, Gabby Johnson’s famous speech comes to mind here, so here it is:
In college soccer, there’s one final grasp at Americanism before a game can end in a dreaded tie. There’s two ten-minute periods of sudden death overtime. But even the most valiant and truly American last effort at deciding a clear-cut winner and loser can fall short sometimes. In European play, if 90 minutes goes by and the game is still even, it ends that way. Both teams get a point in the standings (tables in Europe) and they move on. That’s not what American sports are about, so we tweak it a bit. It adds excitement and theater (two things we love), and usually produces a winner. At the very least, it’s not how the Europeans do it, so it’s better that way. Maybe.
Anyway, despite both sides’ best efforts, Friday’s late-night affair ended in a 0-0 tie. No goals, no celebrations, just 110 minutes of soccer on an incredibly heavy, humid evening (the "feels like" temperature was still around 90 when the game ended a little after 11:00 p.m. There was still something good about it, though. In my experience, the moment when you’ve walked away from a 0-0 tie not furious about it being a 0-0 tie is the moment when you’ve truly embraced the beautiful game.
We still learned a lot about Louisville last night. They had nearly every chance and limited Cornell from having many meaningful chances of their own. In fact, it’s hard to point to a place in the game when it ever felt like Cornell could score. It was just Louisville searching for a goal that unfortunately didn’t come.
So it ended that way, and it felt that way walking out of the stadium. It wasn’t a loss, it wasn’t a win, it just kind of "was". That’s how ties go. They "are", and you walk away with the positives without having the sting of a loss. Here are some of those positives from this particular night:
- The newcomers for Louisville this season are talented, and they’ll add a lot to this team before season’s end. Head coach Ken Lolla mentioned forward Papy Diouf and right back Tim Kubel as freshmen who won’t look like freshmen most of the time, and last night was a good picture of that prediction.
Diouf is an excellent target as a center forward on set pieces and in the run of play, and it nearly produced a goal on a couple of occasions. Kubel likes to press into the attack and provide width from his right back position, and he makes it count. His service into the box in the final third is consistently impressive, and it’d be shocking if it doesn’t help to produce numerous goals as the season goes on.
- Midfielders Ben Strong and Louie Berra made their first starts of the season for Louisville and gave a snapshot of how deep this roster is. Berra played next to sophomore Romi Hernandez in a holding role, and his technical ability showed right away. He’s sound on the ball and made very few (if any) mistakes when distributing it.
Strong was talked about at before the season as a dynamic talent in the wide midfield, and he was active in the attack along with the usual suspects. Strong, Will Vitalis, Ricky Velazco and Andrew Brody playing together can be a scary thing for opposing teams. There were numerous occasions Friday where each had brilliant moments of individual play that nearly turned into brilliant goals. Those will come later this year, too.
- They may not have faced the best attack they’ll face all year, but the Cardinal back four anchored by center backs Daniel Keller and Michael DeGraffenreidt is a solid unit. Keller clearly has an advanced understanding of the game as a senior and a team captain, and DeGraffenreidt is a great athlete that is crafty with the ball when he needs to navigate out of dangerous situations.
Ties aren’t so bad. There’s no way that Louisville envisioned one going into Friday night, and there’s no way they’re satisfied with the result. There was certainly more to be done on their part, and it wasn't solely tough luck that led to a lack of a goal. But it was one game that was very early in the season, and they did create enough chances to get a goal. Sometimes in soccer, the ball just doesn’t go into the net for one of a million reasons, controllable or otherwise.
I walked out of Lynn Stadium happy to have enjoyed the sights and sounds of being a fan. Things didn’t go Louisville’s way, and that certainly wasn’t the fun part, but just getting to watch and enjoy was fun. It was uncomfortably hot and humid, but a fine night all the same.
It’s weird driving home from a loss and a tie. There aren’t any "jump out of your seat" moments to recount, no victory to celebrate. But it was still worth it. Louisville fans were there in impressive numbers again, and they stayed until the end. More promising, I heard the knowledge the fans have of Louisville’s players and the game of soccer. That’s definitely worth celebrating.
I thought about a lot of things on the ride home, like why Chipotle isn’t open later and why it was still 90 degrees at 11 p.m. in September. I have a cold, so I thought about how grateful I am for the brilliant mind that decided the NyQuil/DayQuil combo pack was a good idea (It even comes with more Day than Ny, which is doubly brilliant).
I thought about wins and ties and losses, and decided that even though I had witnessed the two less-favorable outcomes in one night, I’d still come back for more. I think the 5,000+ Louisville fans that were there with me thought the same thing.