Callum Irving posted a shutout in UK's 1-0 win at top-ranked Notre Dame on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Connor Link, UK Athletics
As the lingering seconds began to vanish one by one from the clock overhead on Monday, Callum Irving had no idea he was about to take the biggest goal kick of his collegiate career.
"I looked at the clock as I was running over to grab the ball, and the ref had stopped it because he thought I was wasting time," Irving said. "So basically, I was like, 'I'm going to take my time, put the ball down, and make sure I use as much power that I have left in my leg to try to get the ball as far away from our net as possible.' "
Letting the clock strike zero with no goals on the board for either team was the last thing on the junior's mind. Like the rest of his Wildcat teammates, Kentucky's First-Team All-Conference USA goalkeeper was hungry for a marquee win.
Irving booted the goal kick well into opponent territory, finding freshman forward Stefan Stojkovic along the way. Stojkovic immediately passed the ball to freshman midfielder Hampus Agerstrom, who again found Stojkovic for a quick one-two at the edge of the box. Stojkovic fired away from 15 yards, scoring the game's first goal with only 25 ticks remaining.
Kentucky would hold on to win the game 1-0, knocking off defending national champion and top-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. The result marked UK's first victory over a No. 1 team since 2007, and the Fighting Irish's first loss since October 26, 2013.
Needless to say, Kentucky's man in the net was pleased with how the evening ended.
"This is one of the more memorable games (of my career)," Irving said. "For me, this is what I came to college to do: go to places like Notre Dame and play against the No. 1 team in the nation and defending national champs, and beat them on their home turf. To have that goal coming into college, and then to be put in a scenario where we have the opportunity to do that, it's fantastic. It's definitely something I'm going to look back on with a lot of happiness."
Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren echoed Irving's sentiments, though he was quick to point out that the Wildcats' latest milestone was merely another step forward in achieving the team's ultimate objective.
"It's a regular-season game, and you still have fourteen games to go," Cedergren said. "But, as young of a team as we have -- 21 of the 26 guys being underclassmen -- I think it's really important to talk a lot about confidence and belief. To be able to beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame should give both the staff and the players a lot of confidence."
The Cats will carry that confidence throughout the season.
"I think for the young guys, it's all about feeling like you belong, or feeling that you're good enough," Cedergren said. "We talk about making a run deep into the postseason. If you're going to do that, you're going have to believe that you belong. I think a win against Notre Dame would give you some belief and sense of belonging."
While Kentucky's 1-0 defeat of Notre Dame may qualify as an upset, the result came as no accident. Careful consideration and detailed planning before the season even began were factors that eventually led to the match even taking place.
"The way I schedule every year is to try to find a balance between not scheduling too tough, and scheduling hard enough so that if we do not win the (Conference USA Tournament), we can get an (NCAA Tournament) at-large bid," Cedergren said.
However, the third-year head coach refused to take all of the credit for the current direction of Kentucky's soccer season.
"I have a really good leadership council," Cedergren said. " ... The team basically got to vote for who they thought the leaders were on the team. So, we have five guys in that council: Callum Irving, (forward) Justin Laird -- who's our only senior - (sophomore defender) Charlie Reymann, (junior midfielder) Kristoffer Tollefsen, and (sophomore defender) Jordan Wilson. The six of us meet at least on a weekly basis, and I give them challenges they can carry on with the team."
Irving, who had a career-high seven saves in the upset at Notre Dame, offered further insight into the Cats' leadership council.
"Basically, it's just five guys selected by the team to look over the team and act as captains, being a buffer zone in between the coaches and the players," Irving said. "A lot of times, it's difficult for the players to come with their problems to the coaches; it's a bit intimidating. So, we act as someone who can talk to the coaches on behalf of the players and listen to the players' problems without them having to go to the coaches."
The next task for UK's leadership council is to make sure the Cats don't squander the opportunity created by their big win. That starts on Saturday at 7 p.m. with a home match against East Tennessee State.
"For us -- where we're the young team -- we're on top of the world right now," Cedergren said. "But we're playing again on Saturday. Every single game, play like you're going to play at Notre Dame. I think it's a step in the right direction with the win, but at the same time, it's game No. 4 out of 18 regular season games. So, we've just got to keep going."
For many freshmen, adjusting to the first semester of their collegiate careers, while also managing the strains of debuting on the soccer field, can be a difficult transition.
Kentucky sophomore midfielder Napo Matsoso managed that transition well as a freshman in 2013, immediately emerging as one of the top players in talent-laden Conference USA.
Matsoso hails from Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. Matsoso's home country has a population of just over two million, with approximately 40 percent of the nation living below the international poverty line ($1.25 a day).
As a youth, Matsoso was adopted by Marc and Pam Maguire, a couple in Louisville, Kentucky. Matsoso joined his five brothers in Louisville, James (23), Lepe (22), Sunny (22), Marc (20) and Setho (19). During his high school career at Louisville's St. Francis, Matsoso totaled 72 goals in four years, earning all-state accolades.
Matsoso had four brothers playing collegiate soccer in 2013, with Lepe and Sunny completing their careers at Northwestern and Maryland, respectively, and Setho playing his debut season at Northern Kentucky University.
"It helps a lot because during the offseason, we get to hang out together and talk to each other about the experiences we all have through college," Matsoso said. "We all try to help each other as much as we can. My other brothers have a lot of experience and they share a lot with me about their college careers."
As far as his collegiate debut, Matsoso turned in a strong season as UK's lead attacking midfielder. Matsoso, a 5-foot-6, 138-pound speedster, started all 20 games for the Wildcats, one of only two players to start each game of UK's season.
"Being in Lexington has been really fun," Matsoso said. "Being around my teammates all the time has helped me a lot. We pretty much do everything together. One of my brothers goes to UK too (Marc), so it is like this is my third home. It has been good back home."
He ranked second on the team in minutes played, finishing with one goal and five assists, ranking second on the club. A member of the 2013 Conference USA All-Freshman Team, Matsoso finished with 32 shots fired.
"I learned it is all about the team," Matsoso said. "You have to put the team before yourself. If we work together as a team, then everything will work out how we want it to be."
Kentucky will need Matsoso's dynamic abilities as a scoring threat in 2014, as the Wildcats replace their top three scorers, including 11 goals between graduated seniors Brad Doliner and Tyler Riggs.
While UK must replace some goals, Matsoso and forward Justin Laird combined for 11 assists, and the Wildcats boast a bevy of talented midfield options alongside Matsoso.
"Our midfield has a lot of players that allow us to go forward and score goals," Matsoso said. "It will work out well this year because we have a lot of technical players that like to play and people that love to score goals and push forward more."
Matsoso appears to be an anchor in the midfield for the Wildcats, helping direct the UK attack from his attacking role.
"I like playing attacking mid because the ball basically has to find me," Matsoso said. "From there, I can help the team out a lot with playing with the forward and other players that play behind me. With the players we have, it will work out pretty well this year."
With Kentucky needing to supply some new faces to replace its goal-scoring punch, one question mark that doesn't need answering is UK's defensive unit. Returning preseason All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving, and three of four starters on the backline, UK is poised to have one of the best defenses in the league.
"It will help the team a lot," Matsoso said. "Those guys have been playing with each other for a while now. They understand each other well. (Head coach) Johan (Cedergren) talks to them a lot; they have a lot of individual meetings with Johan and talk about their roles. That will help the team a lot, and that they are only sophomores, they still have a lot of development to go."
Now, two games into his sophomore season, Matsoso's comfort level is drastically different than at this point in 2013.
"I am more comfortable this year," Matsoso said. "Last year, it was a lot of freshmen coming in and now the freshmen that were here last year are still coming back. Everyone tries to make everyone comfortable to be around and play with. It is getting a lot easier for me to get used to everyone and spend so much time with them."
Kentucky (1-1-0) returns to action on Friday with a grueling weekend in South Bend, Indiana, facing the last two national champions in two games over three days. UK will face 2012 national champion Indiana on Friday, before concluding the weekend with defending NCAA Champion Notre Dame on Sunday.
When coaches sit down and start conceptualizing their lineups, one of the key elements to a strong defensive unit is a set of vocal personalities.
Kentucky is blessed with a vocal center back to anchor the backline in sophomore Jordan Wilson.
"As a center back, being vocal is a part of the game," Wilson said. "You can see the whole game in front of you so it is your job to be able to call things out and let them know what you are seeing. Being a leader on the team, that is something that I have always been like. Even growing up in Scotland, I just liked to take on a leadership role, just try to get other players involved and get them moving forward. We are all in this together, we have the same common goal, and we are just keen to reach that."
A native of Auchterarder, Scotland, Wilson stepped right into the UK lineup as a true freshman in 2013, starting all 17 games he played in.
"Playing a lot as a freshman, I can just take a lot from that as confidence going into this season," Wilson said. "Having had that experience and that extra knowledge when seeing the field can be a big help."
A 6-foot-3, 173 pounder, Wilson helped anchor a strong backline in 2013 that allowed 20 goals in his games. Wilson logged the fourth-most minutes on the club (1,531), despite missing three games.
Wilson helped lead the Wildcats to the Conference USA Tournament Semifinals, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.
Entering his sophomore year, a strength of the UK roster could be the defense. Led by first-team All-Conference USA keeper Callum Irving and three returning starters on the backline, UK's defense will be stingy.
"We have a really strong back four," Wilson said. "We played together a lot in the spring. A lot of the focus in the preseason has been on defensive structure and making sure that everyone coming in as a good base knowledge of how we play. We are working on getting that down first and then focusing on the attacking side of it."
In UK's first win of the season over Belmont last Sunday, the Wildcats started Wilson and sophomore Kaelon Fox at center back, along with fellow returning starter Charlie Reymann at outside back. Sophomore Matt Quick has slid into the outside back role opposite Reymann.
Fox, a 6-2, 155 pounder, has joined forces with Wilson at center back, giving UK a pair of athletic, physically imposing defenders. As a freshman in 2013, Fox played in 19 of UK's 20 games, seeing time all over the field.
"Kaelon is doing fantastic," Wilson said. "I really enjoy working alongside Kaelon. We have a good understanding of each other on the field and we are really good friends off the field as well. We think that partnership is good for the team. I really enjoy playing with Kaelon, he is a great player."
The Wildcat's defense as a whole will be looked to as a team-strength as the 2014 continues. UK has allowed one goal over its two games, posting a clean sheet in its home-opening win over Belmont, a 2-0 result.
Going forward, the Wildcats will hope Wilson along with Fox will anchor the team.
"When you look at Kaelon and Jordan we feel they are a really good partnership at the back," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said. "You have Jordan who reads the game really well, and then Kaelon who likes to take chances and try to win balls. But he's fast so if he gets beat he can recover. Then with Jordan as that steady guy at the back, they play off each other well."
The Wildcats will return to action with a grueling weekend tournament in South, Bend, Indiana, facing the last two NCAA Champions, Indiana and Notre Dame. UK opens the weekend on Friday at 5 p.m. vs. Indiana, before concluding the tournament on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Notre Dame, a team that went 17-1-6 a season ago.
Wendell Bell speaks at the dedication ceremony for UK's new soccer complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mitch Barnhart came across more new faces than he could count when he came to Kentucky in 2002.
There were two he just kept noticing.
"We came here about 13 years ago as an administration and this couple kept walking around our program," Barnhart said. "And they kept showing up at events and we got to know them a little bit and spent a little time with us and they'd go on trips with us. Next thing I know, they're traveling with the rifle team, the volleyball team, the women's soccer team, showing up at softball."
The faces belonged to longtime UK supporters and K Fund members Wendell and Vickie Bell, and Barnhart couldn't help but build a relationship with them. It didn't take him long to understand why they were always around.
"What we began to realize is that they've invested in the lives of all these young people," Barnhart said.
On Sunday, UK Athletics recognized that investment with the grand opening of the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex before a women's and men's soccer doubleheader.
"It's a really, really cool day," Barnhart said at a ceremony attended by President Eli Capilouto, coaches and players from both teams and fans. "We get to dedicate our soccer complex to Wendell and Vickie. After all the contributions they've made, we tried to find something that would give them the credit they deserve for all the things they've done."
The new $7.7 million complex houses separate facilities for both soccer programs, with team rooms, lounges, locker-room areas, coaching offices and new grandstand.
"You have no idea how much this means for us," women's soccer senior Arin Gilliland said. "Being here for the last four years, I've gotten to see a change from aluminum bleachers to this amazing facility. We have the best field in the SEC. Now we have the best facility."
The women's soccer team is in the midst of the best years in school history under Jon Lipsitz, while Johan Cedergren is building the men's program in his third season. Walking through a typical visit when he hosts a recruit, Cedergren talked about what the new facility means to that process.
"At the end, it's down to me and they're basically, 'Where can I sign?' " Cedergren said. "As a men's soccer program to have the stuff that we have here is absolutely mind-blowing."
The Bells enjoy being a part of it all.
"We've been very involved with the program for so many years and I was talking with Dr. Capilouto and Mary Lynn," Wendell Bell said. "Just the transformation academically and athletically that we have seen and the changes over those years are just amazing. And the vision going forward."
As meaningful as the new soccer facility made possible by the Bells is to that vision, their meaning to UK Athletics goes far deeper. That's why the two teams presented jerseys to the Bells and the ball used to score the first regular-season goal in the Bell Soccer Complex on Friday.
"Obviously something like this doesn't happen without the money," Lipsitz said. "It takes money to do these things and we know they've been incredibly generous. But I literally made a note and I wrote down a dollar sign and I crossed it out and I drew a heart. Because that is my first thought when I think about them."
That makes the tribute to the Bells unveiled on Sunday all the more fitting.
After the speeches were done, Barnhart led the Bells outside, where a new bell and plaque were unveiled next to the field as a surprise. The bell will ring after each UK goal, creating a new tradition that will be part of all game days to come.
Courtney Raetzman scored in UK's 3-0 win over Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Within 14 minutes in the first game after the stadium's dedication, the bell rang after a Jade Klump goal. The Wildcats would add two more from Courtney Raetzman and Alex Carter in a 3-0 victory, moving to 3-1 on the season in the process.
"We talk about how important it is to leave a legacy," Lipsitz said. "This is the beginning of a new legacy for our players to leave and be able to come back years from now and say, 'Remember when? Remember when we started everything here with the new stadium?'
"It's just so special having Wendell and Vickie here and Mitch and the administration and Dr. Capilouto. You can't really ask more than for the environment we had here today."
In the nightcap, the men's soccer team leveled its record at 1-1 with a 2-0 win over Belmont. After dominating play in a scoreless first half, Kristoffer Tollefsen and Ryan Creel scored UK's first goals of the season and Callum Irving posted a shutout.
"It felt really good, the first home game of the season," Creel said. "Coach said, 'We gotta ring that bell today.' "
"I just think that with all the people here, opening weekend, you want to put on a good show," Cedergren said. "And I thought that the guys were really, really good today."
The Bells were there for all 180 minutes of action on a rainy day, cheering passionately, which is exactly what anyone who knows the Bells and what's important to them would expect.
"We've been blessed," Wendell Bell said, "but truly for us we're just appreciative that we have the opportunity to invest in this program and make an impact on these kids because, at the end of the day, that's what counts."
Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics.
By Brent Ingram.
That first year in college can be a challenging transition for all student-athletes.
For Kentucky defender Charlie Reymann, that transition involved getting acclimated to the stress of playing every day as a true freshman and adjusting to the challenges of academic life.
A native of Worthington, Ohio, Reymann's adjustment in his debut season continued into the summer of his freshman year, when he joined nine UK student-athletes on a service trip to Ethiopia.
Reymann and the UK student-athletes worked with children, helped build homes, provide supplies and enjoy a life-changing experience.
"It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like that," Reymann said. "As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted."
Throughout the trip, Reymann was constantly reminded of the challenges of everyday life in Ethiopia and was deeply moved by his experience.
"In Ethiopia, everything is about relationships and I experienced that right when I got off the bus," Reymann said. "A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball.
"Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was."
Reymann's trip to Ethiopia came just a few months after his debut as a collegiate soccer standout for the Wildcats. His freshman season on the pitch was highly successful, as the 5-foot-9, 163 -pounder, played in all 20 games, seeing starts in 17 games.
"I learned that I have a lot of work to do before I can get to where I need to go," Reymann said. "I have a lot of things to improve on. Over the season, college soccer caught up to me, played against good players and that really showed and highlighted aspects of my game that I need to work on. Every part of my game needs to step up if I want to be the kind of college soccer player I can be."
Reymann saw time in the midfield but primarily as an attacking outside back as a freshman. He finished with two goals and one assist, serving as the primary corner-kick taker.
"Having (head coach) Johan (Cedergren) and (assistant) Chase (Wileman) give me quality coaching of where they want the ball to go, and when it should be there has helped me a lot because as you grow up you are just trying to get it to the big guy on the team," Reymann said. "But the structure we have here, it is so professional. Johan has made it very clear where he wants the ball to go on set pieces. Most of the time, I can get it there. It helps that those guys really teach us and the attackers know where the ball should be so we are on the same page."
One of the exciting elements of Cedergren's exciting style of offensive play is the ability of the outside backs to support the offensive attack, a role that perfectly fits Reymann's game.
"That was one of the reasons Johan recruited me, because I take pride in that part of my game," Reymann said. "I try to get forward as much as I can. Sometimes Johan and I joke around that maybe I get forward a little too much. The way we can be successful is to have out offensive guys be creative but if we can have our outside backs come up it will really help our offense. Sending in good crosses, that is probably one of the best parts of my game, just being able to pass the ball and distribute. Having that skill set should help our offense."
Reymann will join forces on a dynamic backline with center backs Jordan Wilson and Kaelon Fox. With an injury to his opposite member at outside back, Alex Bumpus, the back four will need to break in a new defender. Even with a new face, UK's defensive unit should be a strength of the team in 2014, including first-team All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving.
"We can be one of the best defending units in the country," Reymann said. "Jordan and I played a good amount together last year. Then having Kaelon Fox come in this spring to the backline, we all have a really good understanding of each other. In the first preseason game, we felt really comfortable with each other. We are starting to understand what each other likes and doesn't like. And having Cally back there, he is just a great leader, organizer. Everyone respects him and listens to him. Everyone being on the same page is going to help us a lot. Last year, with three freshmen coming in on the backline it is going to be a little different this year."
An important aspect of having a good back line in college soccer is constant communication amongst the back four and the goalkeeper.
"There are a lot of things going on at once," Reymann said "Especially against some of the teams we will play against this year, some really dynamic players. Just being able to communicate at a high level and knowing what each other generally likes to do. If Jordan wants to step here, or Kaelon is going to step up, we just have a good understanding of when we are going to do that. Against these good teams, we just have to react and know that your teammates are going to be there. Communication is just a huge part of us having success. Halfway through the year, we really started to communicate better. Now coming in with experience on the backline will definitely help."
With Kentucky coming off its season opener on Friday night at Wright State, the Wildcats now turn their attention to preparing for the home lidlifter on Sunday vs. Belmont at 5 p.m. at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex, the grand opening of UK's sparkling new facility.
"Oh my gosh. There are no words," Reymann said about the excitement for the new facility. "Last year, we were watching it get built. We just hear rumors about how nice the locker room would be, or the lounge. The field is already the best I have every played on, that by itself is amazing but know that they got it all built it is just amazing. We are just so excited to just get out there and play in front of a huge stadium. Now we have to win at home and build up that fan base."
As the Kentucky men's soccer team enters the 2014 season, one of its biggest unanswered questions is who will replace some of the team's departed scoring.
With the graduation of leading scorers Tyler Riggs and Brad Doliner, Kentucky must replace 64-percent of its goals from a year ago. One of the players tasked with picking up the scoring load is senior forward Justin Laird.
A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Laird is UK's leading returning scorer after pacing the team with six assists in his first season in Lexington.
The Wright State transfer played in 17 games and made seven starts, finishing with one goal on 22 shots, with his golden goal in overtime vs. Old Dominion in the C-USA Tournament Quarterfinals lifting UK to the semis.
Now entering his final season with the Wildcats, Laird will be counted on as a forward in UK head coach Johan Cedergren's attacking system, a role that requires a physical presence up top as a primary distributor.
"It has been difficult for me, especially since I am the type of player that just likes to run and not really body up guys," Laird said about adapting to the system. "I like to be facing goal, not getting the ball with my back to it, but it has been a change for me. At the same time, with the changes of the coaching staff, I have a lot more clarity of what needs to be done and I feel like I have been adapting to that role real well. I think they get more pleased with me in that role, day-by-day."
A star at Hartford Union High School in Hartford, Wisconsin, Laird began his collegiate career at Wright State.
During his debut season at Wright State, Laird totaled team-highs in points (15) and goals (seven), earning a spot on the Horizon League Newcomer Team.
"I learned that D1 soccer is going to be a lot of work," Laird said about lessons learned at Wright State. "It is going to be a complete grind. Coming to Lexington it really just shows me how blessed we are to have the things that we have and have the coaching staff that we have. It just helped my momentum going forward and helped me learn about what soccer can do for a campus, and we have big things in store here."
After earning a starting spot at forward in UK's first exhibition tune-up of the year at Northern Kentucky, Laird came off the bench to play the final 45 minutes in UK's final exhibition against Georgia State. Upon entering vs. GSU, Laird's impact was immediately felt, as UK picked up the offensive intensity and attacking mindset.
"I feel way more comfortable around campus," Laird said. "I need to be more of a leader out there. I hope that I am a guy that players can look to with questions, on and off the field. I feel like I have a good relationship with this campus right now."
One benefit to Laird and UK's offensive attack in the preseason has been the daily battles with UK's stout defensive unit. With junior Callum Irving, "one of the top three goalkeepers in the country," according to Cedergren, and three starters returning on the back four, UK's defense will be a strength in 2014.
"It is hard," Laird said about facing the UK defense in training. "It is the best four that I have ever played against. In practice it is really hard to get goals on them. Their formation is set and skill wise they are almost unbeatable. It is definitely a struggle when you have to face them up in practice."
Laird has learned a lot over his time at Kentucky and has been struck by the commitment from the UK support staff in building a first-class operation.
"It all starts with the department," Laird said. "UK facilities and everything we have, we are super spoiled and super blessed. I learned that this is a place with big goals and we have the facilities to reflect and reach those goals. We can go big places with this team."
The Wildcats will open their 2014 season against Laird's former squad, Wright State, on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio. UK will then return home for its first game at the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Sunday, hosting Belmont at 5 p.m.
"Goals for the team are to get to a final four this year. We are going to have to have a lot of leadership and a lot of people step up. But at the same time, it is possible. Individually, my goal is to have 10 or more goals."
As a freshman, Kentucky utilized Kaelon Fox in just about every position on the field except goalkeeper.
Now, entering his sophomore season, UK head coach Johan Cedergren is hoping that a firm positional role for Fox will help the standout from Louisville's St. Xavier High School.
A 6-foot-2, 155-pounder, Fox is firmly entrenched as a center back, alongside 6-foot-3 sophomore Jordan Wilson. The duo helps the Wildcats boast the potential for a dynamic defensive squad, with outside back Charlie Reymann also in his second year as an everyday starter.
As a freshman, Fox started eight games and played in 19 of UK's 20 games, totaling two goals and one assist, firing 29 shots. He saw starts on the backline, in the midfield and as an attacking player.
"I learned that college soccer is a difficult game," Fox said. "Coming in as a true defender and having to play forward, midfield and some defense last year, it gave me more knowledge how certain players move on and off the ball, how forwards move on and off the ball. It gave me more of an insight into how to properly defend those attacking players. It developed me more as a center back."
Fox netted his first career goal at Xavier, before adding a tally in UK's win over Florida Atlantic. He also added an assist vs. IPFW and had at least four shots in four games, including a six-shot effort vs. South Carolina.
After spending the spring playing on the backline with Wilson and Reymann, the three have formed a solid chemistry. With UK sophomore Alex Bumpus suffering a season-ending injury in the offseason, it means that the backline will feature a new face at the outside back position opposite Reymann.
"It is really good to have chemistry between your backline, because if you don't things can break down and that is not what you want from your back four and your keeper. Jordan, Charlie and I, the chemistry between us on and off the field is great. It just comes down to having each other's back on the field. When Jordan or Charlie steps up in the attack, we have the ability to cover for them. If someone gets beat off the ball, having their back there. I know Jordan and Charlie have my back. It is a great comfort feeling knowing we are there for each other."
With the backline supported by three veteran starters and a goalkeeper that Cedergren considers "one of the three best goalkeepers in the country" in Callum Irving, Kentucky will be anchored by its defending unit.
"Johan tells us that defense wins championships," Fox said. "That is a true statement. Having chemistry on the backline is great. Jordan, Charlie and I played the whole spring together on the backline which helped us with the chemistry. The defense that we have this year can be really great. We just have to keep building on it game after game."
While his defense will be a strength on the 2014 roster, Cedergren is going to count on Fox and Wilson to provide some scoring threats on set pieces with their size, physicality and athleticism.
"It is going to be pretty important," Fox said about the backline coming up on set pieces. "Johan wants our center backs to get four or five set-piece goals. We need to get our goals-per game up a little bit."
Kentucky opens its 2014 season Friday at 7 p.m. at Wright State. The Wildcats will debut the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Sunday with a twinbill with the women's soccer program, with UK taking on Belmont at 5 p.m.
Bryan Celis. Photo by Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics
By Brent Ingram
Kentucky's 2014 men's soccer team features four upperclassmen on a youthful roster with high hopes for the upcoming season.
Because of the nature of the roster, those four upperclassmen will be counted on to shoulder a large share of the leadership burden.
Among them is junior midfielder Bryan Celis, a talented product of Houston's Mayde Creek High School.
Celis enters his junior season after starring in the midfield for the Wildcats the last two seasons. Celis is coming off a sophomore campaign that was limited to 12 starts due to injury. Despite missing time, Celis totaled three assists, including a pass that set up on the game-winning goal in the season opener vs. Georgia State.
A 5-foot-8, 159 pounder, Celis stepped right into the UK lineup as a freshman in 2012, helping pace the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. Celis played in all 21 games in his collegiate debut, with 11 starts as an attacking midfielder and forward. Celis finished with a goal and four assists. His four assists ranked second on the club.
"Coming in my freshman year I didn't know what to expect," Celis said. "I didn't know much about college soccer so it was all basically new to me. Now that I've spent three years here, I've learned a lot, how to manage my time with school and soccer, what to expect on and off the field, being a leader, being one of the older guys, and having to teach the young guns how things are done around here."
Celis joined the UK roster after a standout prep career in Houston. He saw time on the US U-17, U-15 and U-14 national teams, while TopDrawerSoccer.com ranked him as the 75th-best player in the class. He also saw time with the Dallas Texans in the US Soccer Development Academy.
"We all come from different backgrounds and different playing styles," Celis said. "Johan (Cedergren) really looks up to players the come from MLS academy teams. Me being one of them, he knows that I know the right things to do on and off the field. He believes that I can be a huge leader in the team and he wants me to teach the other guys how to overcome some of the obstacles that they are going to face and tell them to keep working hard and always being there for them and helping them play at 100 percent."
An obvious strength of the Kentucky squad entering 2014 is its defense, which is led by preseason All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving. Irving will help anchor the backline, along with talented returning starters Jordan Wilson, Charlie Reymann and Kaelon Fox.
"Having Callum back this year is going to be a great help to us," Celis said. "Cally has been with the Vancouver Whitecaps training all summer. Having Jordan, Fox and Cally back there is going to be a good help this year just because we all played together last year. We are a little bit more familiar with each other and our strengths and weaknesses. And same in the midfield with Kristoffer (Tollefsen), we all know how we play, we all know our strengths and we try to play towards our strengths so we are not exposed and vulnerable against teams."
As Kentucky gets ready for the 2014 season, one dominant storyline is the debut season of the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.
"We are really excited," Celis said about opening up the new stadium. "I am sure I am speaking for everybody, we got the help through Mitch Barnhart and others who were kind enough to donate money to the stadium. New team, new training facilities, everything has us excited to get back to the season and start playing again. That is pretty much what we came here to do, is play soccer."
Kentucky opens its 2014 season on Friday at Wright State at 7 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio. UK will then debut the Bell Complex on Sunday at 5 p.m. vs. Belmont.
Junior goalkeeper Callum Irving was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2013. (Chet White, of UK Athletics, took this photo)
It is common that good goalkeepers don't hit their peak until their late 20s, early 30s.
It is a position that require vocal leadership, quick thinking and a mature physical presence.
In his third season in between the pipes for the Kentucky men's soccer team, Callum Irving is developing into one of the best goalkeepers in college soccer.
Coming off a first-team All-Conference USA season as a sophomore, Irving enters the 2014 season with high hopes of taking the next step in his development, while helping lead the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.
With a stated goal of allowing 18 goals or less on the year, Irving and the Wildcats have high hopes for a strong defensive unit. With a back four featuring returning starters Jordan Wilson and Kaelon Fox at center back and Charlie Reymann at outside back, the strength of the UK roster appears to be in its defense.
Part of a strong defensive unit involves a vocal leader in goal, a role that Irving is embracing as a third-year standout.
"It is massive to be a vocal goalkeeper," Irving said. "As a keeper I have to be loud and commanding because I can see everything on the field. I need to be able to help guys out whenever I can. They also need to be able to let me know when I am doing things wrong or when I need to help them in certain areas. The communication with me, and not just the backline but with the entire team, is really important to keep things cohesive."
A 6-foot-1, 190-pounder, Irving has been tabbed a team captain for the 2014 season, with UK third-year head coach Johan Cedergren employing a leadership council.
"It's a real honor," Irving said about being a team captain. "It is something I've wanted to do for a while. I am just happy that I have been able to be put in a position to be one of the leaders on this team. It is a big challenge with such a young squad but the guys have a lot of respect for each other and I think they respect me as a player and a person. I look forward to being able to share some of the tougher situations I've been through as a junior player and help the freshmen get past that learning curve so they can all have a good impact on our season."
In 2013, Irving entered the season as the backup to senior co-captain Jack Van Arsdale. Van Arsdale shined in 2012 after earning the job midway through the season. Irving moved into the starting role for the final 13 games of 2013, totaling 16 starts on the year and allowing 18 goals in 1484 minutes. He finished with a 1.09 goals-against average, the 11th-best total in program history, with his six shutouts ranking ninth.
Irving was voted by the league coaches to the C-USA first-team in 2013, marking the second first-team all-conference goalkeeper in UK history and the first since Andy Gruenebaum in 2005.
Irving enters 2014 having transformed his body and benefiting greatly from two years of experience for the Wildcats.
"Naturally I have physically matured quite a bit, putting on 30 pounds since my freshman year," Irving said. "Other than the physicality, it is just about being through different game scenarios. Being down, letting in own goals, making saves, there are a bunch of different scenarios that you go through and you learn from. For a keeper every game is a learning experience. Having a bunch of reps and having some game time has really helped me understand a lot of different scenarios, especially when it comes to college soccer, because it is a real different game from youth soccer. Being able to start leading the team has helped me mature and made me more calm at the back and have an expectation of what's going to come."
One of the keys to Irving's development has been the individual instruction from third-year goalkeeping coach David Casper.
"It has helped a ton," Irving said about his relationship with Casper. "It is great that we have a goalie coach that works with us every day. He puts in a ton of work on and off the field. He is one guy that is never satisfied, which is the best thing. Even if I had a good game, he will congratulate me, but we are still focused on the things that I did wrong in the game. He helps to keep me humble and keep me focused on always getting better and not being satisfied. No matter what he has always had my back. He is pretty big in getting me where I am."
As a freshman, Irving came in as a highly touted recruit out of Vancouver, British Columbia. In a preseason battle with Van Arsdale, Irving won the starting job for the season lidlifter at Dayton. He allowed four goals in a 4-3 loss but made six saves on 15 shots, making several jaw-dropping saves that left glimpses of his raw abilities.
Van Arsdale started the next two games before Irving returned to the starting lineup in Cedergren's first career win, posting a clean sheet vs. St. Joe's. After starting vs. No. 4 Charlotte and allowing a first-half tally, Irving gave way in the second half to Van Arsdale. The next game sparked a season turn around for the Wildcats, as Van Arsdale turned in a heroic effort in leading UK to a win at No. 18 Louisville, securing the starting job for the remainder of 2012, with UK earning an NCAA Tournament hosting berth.
"I learned how to bounce back from failure and realize that not everything is going to be handed to you," Irving said about what he learned as a freshman. "And you have to work to earn the respect from the people around you. It was a really good learning experience and I think it benefited me more than if I had played."
After resting the two-game exhibition schedule to open the year, Irving returned to the training pitch on Monday and is eager to get on the field for the season opener. Kentucky will open its 2014 season on Friday at Wright State at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will then open up the sparkling new Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex with Belmont on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.