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Cedergren keeping Cats goal-oriented after opening weekend

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UK fell 4-3 to Dayton in the first game of the Johan Cedergren era. (UK Athletics) UK fell 4-3 to Dayton in the first game of the Johan Cedergren era. (UK Athletics)
Coming into the 2012 campaign, men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren set a lofty goal for his team of allowing 18 goals or fewer in 18 games this season. The Wildcats hit a bump in the road in achieving the feat after allowing four goals to Dayton last Sunday in the season opener.

The Wildcats held the Flyers scoreless through the first 45 minutes of action before fireworks went off in the second half. The teams combined to score seven goals as Dayton squeaked away from the match with a 4-3 victory.

Although the Cats surrendered four goals and walked away from the contest on the low end, Cedergren and the defense never stopped fighting and are confident they will right the ship.

"I think we have a lot of experience in that back four and they as a unit were not at all happy about letting four goals in, but they never stopped trying and they kept pushing," Cedergren noted.

Kentucky runs a 4-5-1 set and is full of experience on the defensive end. Seniors Jacob Kemper and Pettys along with juniors Dylan Asher and Steven Perinovic man the back line for the Cats, who have five seniors among the starting 11.

In contrast to previous seasons, Cedergren is implementing a zone defense instead of man assignments. Like anything in life, change doesn't happen overnight.

"I think we use a fairly similar system that the players are used to in that we play a back four and I believe they played a back four in the past," Cedergren said. "They have zone responsibilities rather than man markings and its just a little more complicated because people that come into your zone are your responsibilities. You have to mark whoever is coming into your zone and then the other three defenders have to feed off of what the first person is doing."

The zone defense requires a lot of attention to detail and trust in teammates to have each other's back.

"We talk a lot of paying attention to detail and as we work more and more the defense is going to get cleaned up," Cedergren said. "We also have to have two holding center midfielders in front of the back four that are supposed to protect them. I think they did an okay job there but we can definitely be a lot sharper."

Despite surrendering four goals in the opener, the offense looked primed and ready for the 2012 season. The Wildcats received goals from senior captain Matt Lodge, Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs.

UK looked sharp on both ends in the first half, taking a 13-6 shot advantage over the Flyers to the locker room. Cedergren was pleased with the performance his team showed out of the gates and their ability to stay within themselves early on.

"I think we had a pretty clear game plan going into the game and we had a good idea what Dayton was going to do," Cedergren mentioned. "We did really well in the first half in terms of staying with the game plan and keeping the team tight and not giving them a lot of room."

The second half turned out to be a different story. The teams combined to score seven goals, with Dayton holding a 9-8 advantage on shots. The Cats fell behind 4-1 before their courageous rally fell short.

"I think you have to give credit to Dayton," Cedergren said. "They made some changes at halftime and we just weren't able to comprehend what they were doing quickly enough. We started dropping off and giving them more space and soccer is a game of opportunities. Once they got their first goal they became more aggressive and started believing more in themselves and started pushing forward and I think we started doubting ourselves at the same time."

After a long preseason battle for the starting goalkeeper position, UK gave true freshman Callum Irving the nod on Sunday. Irving's stat line didn't looked the most impressive after surrendering four goals but he did catch Cedergren's attention with some of his play.

"When you play a true freshman mistakes are going to happen," Cedergren said. "I will never pull someone or not play someone because they made a mistake. It's how you respond after making the mistake and how you compensate. Callum made a couple of saves that very few keepers in the country could have done. Yes there was a mistake that may have happened but at the same time there were two or three times where he saved almost a given goal."

Junior Jack Van Arsdale and freshman Dary DeWalt are also being considered in the mix for the starting slot. Van Arsdale started three games in goal for UK last season and has performed very well in practice and training.

"Jack did great for us in the spring and he's been great in practice," Cedergren said. "Callum and Jack have been pushing each other like crazy and Dary is in the mix as well. The keepers are very close and we thought Callum looked a little sharper but Jack knows if he trains well this week there is an opportunity for him."

Kentucky will turn its focus to the upcoming weekend as they prepare for the South Carolina Tournament where they will face Big Ten foe Northwestern and Big East member St. John's. Northwestern was picked by the coaches to vie for the top spot in the Big Ten, while St. John's comes into the week ranked No. 15/13. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Wildcats as they are scheduled to play Charlotte (Sept. 9), Louisville (Sept. 14) and Indiana (Oct. 3).

"It's a great schedule and very challenging," Cedergren said. "We have 10 teams in the top 25 but that's where we want to be and our goal is to be in the top 25. I think you need a tough schedule to get you ready for conference play but Northwestern and St John's are two programs where we want to be with two very experienced coaches.

The Wildcats have larger goals set for themselves as the season progresses. It will take a quite a collective effort to reach their benchmark of 18 or fewer goals allowed, but the team is looking at the big picture.

"These two tough games on the road will get us ready for when we have to go and play on the road in conference," Cedergren said. "One of our goals is to make the conference tournament and to do that we are going to have to get some wins on the road and I think a tough schedule will prepare us for that."

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