The Wildcats have taken a little more time to get going than maybe they would have hoped but head coach Johan Cedergren is pleased with the way his team has stayed positive through the tough times.
"You have to give the guys and my staff a lot of credit," Cedergren said. "At 1-4, there are tendencies that tend to come out and then all of a sudden there are little cliques and that kind of stuff but the guys worked really hard and stayed together."
This Sunday, UK will open up the conference portion of their schedule with a clash against Memphis. The way their schedule has been set up, the Cats should be well prepared for the Tigers.
The Wildcats missed out on the league tournament last season and want to make sure that doesn't happen again. Cedergren said one of the team's goals this year is to be in the top-six of the Conference USA and compete in the league's postseason tournament.
The first game of conference play is always very important and teams seem to play with more energy. Starting 1-0 as opposed to opening with a defeat in league action can make a huge difference the rest of the way. UK looks to ride its momentum into Sunday's contest but Cedergren will warn his team that a victory won't come easily.
"Looking back at my Dartmouth career, for some reason that first league game was always a struggle, it didn't matter who it was," Cedergren said. "You have to make sure you go into that game with maybe a winning streak and you get the guys to be confident so the first 15-20 minutes you try to send a message to the other team."
C-USA is considered to be one of the strongest leagues in the country and every game is going to be a battle for UK. However, with the strong schedule to begin the year, the Cats won't be afraid of anyone.
Kentucky is returning home after crushing IPFW, 5-1 in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Tuesday. The offensive output was the most goals scored by the Cats this season and was another step in the right direction.
UK got two goals from junior Tyler Riggs, while senior Matt Lodge found the back of the net in the contest as well. The two are now tied for a team-high five goals scored and are backing up all of the expectations that were put on them before the season got underway.
After recording the two goals on Tuesday, Riggs is now tied for seventh all time in goals scored on the UK career charts. The Louisville, Ky., native has always been a score-first type of player but with Cedergren's arrival, his role has changed a bit.
"When I first got here, Riggs was looking to score," Cedergren said. "With the way we play in our system, sometimes we have to play through him and I think that slowly and surely is sinking in."
Lodge netted his 22nd career goal and 59th career point in the IPFW game and has moved up to sixth place on both UK all-time lists. Cedergren is aware of Lodge's talent and knows he wants to do everything he can to go out with a bang his last year in a Kentucky uniform.
"Lodge wants to have success before he leaves and he knows this is his last chance," Cedergren said. "He wants to do everything he can to help his team and himself and get to the next level."
The offense is clicking right now and with the vast improvement of the defense, the Cats could be a tough team to beat the rest of the way. Goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale, defenders Jacob Speed, Steven Perinovic and the unit as a whole have developed a sense of chemistry out in the back third.
Van Arsdale found himself in a position battle to open the season and even watched from the sideline in the first game as freshman Callum Irving began the year as the team's starting keeper. Nine games into the season and Van Arsdale has stepped up his game to become the starter. The decision hasn't been easy for Cedergren but Van Arsdale has been playing out of his mind lately and it's tough not to play the junior.
When the Kentucky faithful step foot in the UK Soccer Complex on Sunday they will see a different team than what they witnessed early in the season.
The Wildcats are playing more as a team now and Cedergren believes if they were to go back to the beginning of the year and play the games over, there would be different results.
"I think the team has evolved since day one and I think that if we played Dayton again, I think it would be a different result because we would respond to that challenge differently," Cedergren said. "We would not hang our heads, we would keep fighting and we would get a goal when we needed to.
"I think that comes from the seniors, the captains and really it comes from everyone because everyone is really passionate about the program and wants us to do well."