Four days following the big upset of No. 18 Louisville, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team has wasted no time shifting the focus to its next opponent: East Tennessee State on Wednesday.
The Wildcats dropped four one-goal games in their first five games before pulling out a 1-0 victory over the Cardinals last Friday evening at Cardinal Park in Louisville, Ky. Not only did the Cats start the 2012 season with an uphill climb after four losses in their first five games of the year, but they had played three ranked opponents in those contests.
Louisville was next up on the brutal schedule, but UK found a way to win and may have turned their season around. Kentucky has a stretch where they have an opportunity to roll off a winning streak and get some confidence built.
In their next three games the Cats will face ETSU at home, and Evansville (Sept. 22) and IPFW (Sept. 25) on the road. Head coach Johan Cedergren sees this as an opportunity to right the ship and get back to an even record.
"We are 2-4 so we need a couple to get back to .500," Cedergren said. "I think we are ready for it. Like I've have said all along, it's a good team and it's just a matter of putting it all together. Now we know that we can do it in a hostile environment against a very good team. So let's show our home fans on Wednesday that we can do it back-to-back."
However, East Tennessee will be no slouch when the Buccaneers come to the UK Soccer Complex on Wednesday. They own a 4-2 mark on the year, including a 1-0 victory in double overtime over Conference USA foe, No. 17 UAB.
Cedergren is aware of ETSU and what it can bring, but knows that if his team plays with the same energy that it brought against Louisville, the Wildcats can beat anyone in the country.
"We have a brutal schedule, and ETSU and their coaching staff have a very good program," Cedergren said. "They have had success, been to the tournament (2010), have a wonderful facility down there and have some very special players going forward. We are definitely going to have to be on our toes, but at the same time if we can beat Louisville and can put that kind of performance together on Wednesday then I will feel pretty good about our chances."
After recording his first shutout of the season against Louisville, junior goal keeper Jack Van Arsdale received two weekly awards for his performance. Van Arsdale was named to the national team of the week by College Soccer News and the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week.
Van Arsdale and the defense are taking that step forward that Cedergren has been preaching all season. Along with the Louisville match, the defensive unit has posted a shutout against St. Joseph's and held No. 4 Charlotte scoreless in the second half in its last three contests.
The Wildcats took a beating with the early schedule but Van Arsdale likes his team's chances the rest of the season.
"It gives you confidence that if you are playing the best teams in the country to start out with, theoretically it gets easier from here," Van Arsdale said. "Our conference is really tough with really good teams. Basically, we need to take what we have learned from these games and use them going forward."
Senior forward Matt Lodge scored the winning goal against the Cardinals on Friday and was awarded the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. The win over Louisville was huge for Lodge in particular, considering it was the first time he had tasted a victory over the archrivals.
Lodge was pleased with the UK fan turnout in Louisville and is excited to play in front of the home crowd on Wednesday. The Rossington, England native believes that Friday's win will persuade the fans to keep supporting the Cats this season.
"Yeah, especially after the Louisville game," Lodge said. "We had a lot of fans there and they saw us win, so hopefully they will be at our home game against ETSU. I don't know a whole lot about them but I know they are a solid team. They beat UAB so it's going to be a test."
Cedergren has been consistent since the offseason and the kickoff to the season. He has constantly talked about his team getting better every day in training and games. The record didn't always show it, but only he and the rest of the team have really been able to see what's going on day in and day out.
After topping the Cardinals, the Cats now can show the rest of the world what they are made of and how much they have improved since the start of the season. No more playing well for stretches at a time or for just one half and then having the wheels fall off. This team appears to have grown in maturity and experience that is ready for the long haul.
"We are at the point now where we can put together a good performance for ninety minutes," Cedergren said. "The guys were really passionate, and we came out on fire against Louisville. That surprised us a little bit, and that gave us confidence. Then from that point we were just trying to sustain what we had done. I think we are a really good team. We just need to realize that ourselves and put it together now for several games in a row."