UK has come a long way since opening up the year at 1-4. The Cats are 7-2-1 since, including three consecutive victories.
According to head coach Johan Cedergren, a conference title hasn't been all that far-fetched for the squad. The first-year coach and his staff believed from day one that his team had the talent to compete with the top schools in the league.
"We had goals that were just within the squad and the staff and one of them was we could make a run for a conference title," Cedergren said. "That might be ridiculous to the outsiders after going either .500 or less in the last two years but we have a good enough squad that we can definitely go all the way."
This Saturday, The Wildcats will face a crucial road matchup against Tulsa (10-4-1, 4-1-1 C-USA), who will come into the match ranked 23rd in the country and are currently in second place in conference play.
Not only is this game important for the Cats' conference title hopes, but also for the NCAA officials when looking at the final seedings for the postseason tournament. UK has a RPI of 18 and would receive a major boost with either a road win or a draw against Tulsa, who is No. 16 on the RPI list.
Following the Tulsa contest, Kentucky will return home for its final two games of the regular season against UCF and South Carolina. There are still games to be played and a lot can happen as the season draws to a close.
"We are in a good spot right now but there are still three games to play and that's nine points and anything can happen," Cedergren said.
The Wildcats have gone through several changes in the offseason and throughout the year. The transformation of the program began with the hiring of Cedergren and things have taken off for the men's soccer program since.
To start the 2012 season, Cedergren implemented his preferred formations of 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1. However, Cedergren and his staff decided to introduce the 4-4-2 formation a few games ago. It calls for two forwards up front, and the offense has taken off with the new look.
Junior Dylan Asher has started up front alongside senior Matt Lodge the last three games, due to an injury to Tyler Riggs, and the two have jelled immediately. Asher, who served as a defender during his first two-and-a-half years at UK, has scored four goals in the last two matches, including a hat trick in the Wildcats' 5-1 triumph over FIU last Sunday.
UK is loaded with depth at the forward position, which resulted in Cedergren using a formation that takes full advantage of his play-making athletes.
"I think it has definitely helped with Dylan Asher being a good forward," Cedergren said. "We have Dylan, we have Lodge, we have Riggs and we have Caleb (Richardson). So we have four good forwards and it made sense to play with two up front rather than one."
Kentucky scored three goals in the first half against FIU, which marked the first time the Cats have netted a goal in the first half in six contests. Statistically, UK has been a better second half team, outscoring its opponents 19-12 in the second half compared to just 10-8 in the first stanza.
The Wildcats are a patient bunch that likes to keep the ball on the ground and wait for the right opportunities to open up rather than forcing the issue and giving their opponents easy chances at the ball.
Although it may seem Kentucky typically gets off to slower starts, they are actually setting themselves up for a second-half push.
"I think it's a tactic of ours to wear a team down," Cedergren said. "If you are keeping the ball, moving the ball and not trying to go forward every single time, you won't score that many goals right away but you will wear a team down. That's why I think we have scored a lot more goals in the second half because teams get tired and we get a little more confident."
The Wildcats' final run at a conference title starts on Saturday at Tulsa. Cedergren is not foreign to the Golden Hurricane, as he saw them in action last season when he was on the Dartmouth coaching staff.
Tulsa presents a lineup with the most firepower in the conference. UT leads the league in goals scored (38), assists (30) and points (106). It is a team that likes to attack the ball and will be an even tougher test for UK with so much on the line.
"Just like the other teams, we watch three-to-five games and we look for tendencies and weaknesses," Cedergren said. "I think we have a pretty good idea of what to do Saturday so we feel good. They are a good team and have had a great season so far and there is a lot on the line after this game."