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Under Cedergren, future of men's soccer bright in short, long term

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Johan Cedergren takes over as UK's head coach following five season at Dartmouth. (Dartmouth Athletics) Johan Cedergren takes over as UK's head coach following five season at Dartmouth. (Dartmouth Athletics)
Four years ago, when Johan Cedergren decided with his wife, Julia, to leave his job with U.S. Bank to become associate head coach of Dartmouth men's soccer, he set forth a plan. He would build experience and his resume and, within three to five years, earn a Division I head coaching position.

Very quickly, he came to realize just how ambitious his plan was. He and his wife adjusted their expectations accordingly, maintaining the same ultimate goal but accepting a lengthened timeframe.

After developing into one of the nation's top assistants in five successful seasons under head coach Jeff Cook, it turns out he was right on with his original plan. Cedergren has been tabbed as the third head coach in the Kentucky men's soccer history.

"Going into it, before knowing what it really takes to get a head job, I had hoped within five years that I would be able to be a head coach," Cedergren said. "Having been in it for five seasons and knowing how many good coaches are out there, I think that this is an unbelievable opportunity to come at this time."

On Thursday, Cedergren was named head coach by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, concluding a national search for Ian Collins' replacement. Cedergren, the 2010 National Soccer Coaches of America Assistant Coach of the Year, helped lead Dartmouth to the NCAA Tournament in all five of his seasons with the Big Green. He played collegiately at the University of Cincinnati, so he is familiar with both the area and Conference USA.

"I spent 10 years in the Midwest and I really enjoy it here," Cedergren said. "I think having played in Conference USA and against Kentucky as a player, it's one of the best programs around. It's a dream job for any aspiring head coach in general."

With the reputation Cedergren, a native of Solvesborg, Sweden, developed in the five seasons he spent as Cook's understudy at Dartmouth, it was a matter of time before he had the opportunity to become a head coach. Recognizing what Cedergren can build at UK, Cook is elated for his pupil.

"I am just delighted for him moving forward in his career, but also because I feel like Kentucky is the type of institution that we would hope our assistants move into when they have jobs," Cook said. "It is a great position to leave Dartmouth for. Of course we are sad to see Johan go, this is the right opportunity for him and his career."

Cedergren isn't going to waste any time in capitalizing on the opportunity.

"I think you have to really get going with the team right away," Cedergren said. "I know what I want to do. I want to make sure they get my message right away so they know what's going to go on. I'm going to work with the strength and conditioning staff to make sure we have a program that makes sense and get some really competitive spring games going so we can build the team to get ready for the fall."

His philosophy begins and ends with encouraging growth in his players, both on and off the field. He recognizes the time he has with each student-athlete is limited, so he will be purposeful about everything he does.

"I believe that, if you have a kid for four years, you have to be able to develop the player," Cedergren said. "I think that you want to do things that are positive. You want to create chances, you want to pass the ball, but at the same time you have to minimize risk."

Creating chances might not be too difficult considering the talent UK will return next season on offense. Forwards Tyler Riggs and Matt Lodge formed one of the better attacking duos in the nation a season ago, as they combined for 18 goals in 15 assists in 2011. Combining Riggs and Lodge with returners on defense, it's clear UK's cupboard is far from bare. Cedergren is already familiar with the names on his roster, but the next step will be establishing relationships with them.

"Of course, you have to get to know your team, and I think we have a tremendous team coming back with the two top scorers returning and the starting center back (Dylan Asher) and goalkeeper (Tyler Beadle)," Cedergren said. "I think there's a great opportunity do really great things right off the bat."

UK is in position to win right away, but Cedergren is also balancing that with building for the future. He sees big things in the future, which begins first and foremost on the recruiting trail.

"To get the team right and make sure everyone buys into the message is extremely important, but of course it's college, so every year you lose players," Cedergren said. "Recruiting is equally important and it's a matter of getting out there and making sure you find all the talent."

Finding talent begins within the immediate radius of Lexington. Cedergren says his focus will be on identifying players capable of contributing at this level within six hours of UK's campus, where the Kentucky brand has particular meaning.

"What we're fortunate with here at Kentucky is we have an unbelievable brand name," Cedergren said. "Within those six hours, if you come knocking and you have the UK logo, they're going to open the door and listen to you."

However, UK won't turn its back on recruiting internationally under Cedergren. The Wildcats' current roster features 10 players from outside the United States, while Dartmouth had six players from outside American borders a season ago with Cedergren as associate head coach. With his connections and eye for talent, he will look to bring in foreign players, but he'll also be strategic in doing so.

"The core of your team has to be U.S.-based players, then you have a sprinkle of special international talent," Cedergren said. "You don't bring an international player over just because he's international. He has to be an immediate impact player and start the majority of the time, if not all four years."

Regardless whether a player is a returner from a season ago, a newcomer from abroad or a freshman from right down the street, Cedergren's goal is to communicate that he has each one's best interests at heart, both on and off the field. Coming from an Ivy League school like Dartmouth, Cedergren knows what it means to develop well-rounded players. To do that, he knows he must be available at all hours.

"It's very important that the players know that what you're doing is best for them and that your door is always open and the phone is on 24/7," Cedergren said. "No matter what, there no question too small or too big of an issue, we're always here for you."

When Cedergren says "we", he's not only referring to he and his coaching staff. He views his family, which includes his wife and two children, Gavin, 6, and Abigail, six months, as a part of the program as well. In fact, the move to Lexington offers a nice bonus because Julia's family hails from a few miles down I-75 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"My wife's family is close and, right now, this is the happiest my father-in-law has been about his daughter marrying someone. I'm expecting a nice Christmas gift from him," Cedergren joked.

Being close to family is nice, but it's the job and the school that have Cedergren so energized.

"To be able to combine that with coming here is great," Cedergren said. "If UK was on the West Coast, we would still do that just because of what UK offers. It's just a dream come true to match the athletic and academic profile of UK with the location."

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