One of the goals for the University of Kentucky men's soccer team coming into the 2012 season was to finish in the top six of the Conference USA and make an appearance in the league tournament at the end of the year. The Wildcats took their first step in that direction as they picked up a point in the first game of conference action with a 2-2 draw against Memphis in double overtime on Sunday afternoon at the UK Soccer Complex.
Head coach Johan Cedergren has talked about how important the first game of conference play is and how much of a struggle it can be. The Wildcats appeared to be in some trouble heading to the halftime locker room, trailing 1-0.
The first half was not pretty for the Cats, but they responded with a spirited second half and overtime play to pick up a point and improve their unbeaten streak to five games.
"I think it's huge to get that first point," Cedergren said. "We aren't disappointed in getting a point against Memphis because they are a very good team."
Junior Tyler Riggs equalized the match in the 64th minute on assists from Jacob Kemper and senior Charley Pettys. The Wildcats looked as though they seized momentum moments later as Pettys put UK ahead with his fourth goal of the season in the 66th minute for a 2-1 advantage.
Memphis would later tie the contest off a deflected free kick on the 78th minute to knot the game at 2-all. The game went into two overtimes as neither team was able to find the game-winner, resulting in the draw.
Kentucky has played very well in its previous four games, especially getting off to good starts. Today, the Wildcats came out flat in the first half and put themselves in a hole from the beginning. Cedergren has been very demanding on his players since his arrival and made a statement in the locker room, instructing his players that their first half was just not good enough.
"That first half was unacceptable, and we talked about that at halftime," Cedergren said. "We made changes and got better, but I think we put ourselves in a huge hole. "The only way they were going to score we felt was technique, and they scored off of two set pieces."
UK appeared flat from the get go but improved significantly the rest of the way to give the Wildcats some positives to take away from the game. Cedergren was pleased with the play of several individuals but makes it clear that he is in it for the team and feels like they took a step back today.
The Cats had to play catch-up after falling behind 1-0 in the 17th minute. UK has found itself in that same position several times so far this season and showed resiliency in the second stanza and OT.
In the end, the slow start in the first half prevented the Wildcats from picking up their fifth straight win
"You can see the belief that they kept playing and kept doing things but it was the flatness in the first half that we had to struggle to get out of," Cedergren said. "It's tough because you are happy you get a point at home and you are happy with the second half and overtime but the first half leaves you so frustrated that it's hard to get over that one."
Last season, the Cats finished 2-5-1 in conference play and missed out on the league tournament at the end of the year. A point in the opening conference game should give UK a boost and help them achieve their goal of making the C-USA tournament.
Kentucky topped Louisville a few of weeks ago and have since turned their season around and hovered above the .500 mark. The Wildcats have another opportunity to pick up a huge win and ride some momentum with a battle against Indiana at home on Wednesday.
Unlike the Louisville game where UK played against 5,500 screaming Cardinal fans, the Cats will be playing in front of their home crowd. Kentucky has a couple days to prepare for the Hoosiers who come in ranked No. 8 in the country.
Wednesday will be a major test for the Cats, especially coming off a double overtime match, but Cedergren will have his players ready.
"Indiana coming in here is just like a Louisville game, and the guys are going are going to be up for it," Cedergren said. "We have worked really hard so far in the season and they are really fit and their bodies will be ready."