UK junior midfielder Stuart Pope shoots from distance vs. Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Spend any time around Jon Lipsitz at a UK women's soccer training session -- or on the sidelines during a match -- and it becomes clear quite quickly that he puts a major emphasis on playing with a quick tempo offensively.
The Wildcat's possession-dependent system requires fast passing to keep defenses guessing and moving. The Wildcats pushing the tempo of the match was very much the difference in Friday's 2-0 victory over Louisville.
Kentucky went into halftime tied 0-0 having created the better of the first-half chances, but UK also struggled to sustain possession.
Lipsitz and his staff shouted to play faster over and over from the touch line during most of the game's opening moments, but it took until around the half-hour mark for the UK players to respond. Even then it wasn't until the second interval where the fact that the game's pace had changed became evident.
"We have to move the ball and I thought early on we were playing at a pace that was not who we are," Lipsitz said. "I said 50 times: 'faster.' Sometimes players feel like, 'I am playing as fast as I can,' but we know they can do better. So we kept pushing and I thought about the last 15 minutes of the first half we started playing better and continued that into the second half."
On both goals speed was the difference. On the opener, Courtney Raetzman capitalized on quick one- and two-touch buildup play along the left sideline before getting behind the U of L defense and playing a cross for a Stuart Pope mid-range effort near the 18-yard line.
Arin Gilliland created the second scoring chance with sheer individual speed. She ran onto a long ball over the top from out of the UK back line. With the entire pitch in front of her she dribbled into the box and at two defenders, eventually drawing a foul on the penalty spot.|
Both goals came out of playing with pace in two different ways: passing and foot speed, respectively.
"We talk about don't let somebody else set our pace," Lipsitz said. "Louisville is a tremendous team at picking off central passes and counterattacking. They are so good at it. So as we played more slowly in the back because we weren't heavily pressured we are setting up to get picked off and countered and give up a breakaway.
"We don't want their defensive pressure up top to dictate how fast we play. We have to move the ball that is who we are. We have to play to feet."
Pope proves lethal since returning to attacking role
Stuart Pope has been close to unstoppable in the attacking midfield since moving back to her more comfortable creative role after starting the season as a defensive outside back.
Having found the back of the net on Friday, the junior now has four goals in three games since her positional switch. Indeed Pope has proven to be a perfect fit at the heart of the UK attack, but as early as this offseason Lipsitz himself wouldn't have believed she could be so effective up front.
"Stu has just changed who she is," Lipsitz said of his versatile junior. "She would be the first one to tell you that she did not like me her first two years here. And I don't apologize for it at all. We always knew that Stu had tremendous potential. One of the greatest conflicts in a coach-player relationship is when the coach feels that a player is not reaching her potential.
"Her confidence, her fitness, she has always been very technical and tactical but for her to be able to control the game the way she does now that is all her. She did the work. I could not be more proud of her. To imagine a year or two ago her commanding the middle of the field for 90 minutes, we imagined it but there is no way she could have done it, but now she deserves every accolade that she gets."
Pope was in many ways the Wildcats' most lively attacker from the start of the game, but on multiple occasions early Lipsitz felt she was being to patient in buildup play. He instructed her to shoot more.
The suggestion worked as she began to try her luck from distance late in the first half, and a long-range effort ended up being the game's first goal.
"He has been telling me for three years to shoot the ball more and one of these days it is going to come," Pope said. "I finally put one in and hopefully next game I can work on Jon's coaching points. I just like attacking.
"I am an attacker at heart and been an attacker my whole life. It suits my style and suits me better to attack and I can be in the right place at the right time and not have to worry about the back line."
King unblemished at home.
Senior goalkeeper Kayla King has yet to concede a goal at the UK Soccer Complex this season. In three matches at home the Wildcats have kept three clean sheets.
"It was a great team shutout," King said. "The shutouts are what (Assistant) Coach Ian (Carry) and I always talk about and what we always want. It's just a little sweeter against Louisville on our home field in front of our home crowd."
Friday's 2-0 victory may have been the Wildcats' most convincing defensive performance. UK faced 13 shots, with King only called upon to save four times.
When King did come to make a save, she came strong as she decisively caught multiple Cardinal crosses and notably punched another well out of danger.
The Wildcat captain has shown impressive confidence in this, her second season as a starter.
"On your home field, you can't lose and you can't give up goals," King said. "I joke that (Associate Head Coach) Michelle (Rayner) has tricked the goalkeepers out with our team outfits. We call our kits the shutout shirts. We don't give up goals especially not at home. We earned the shutout on the practice field."Gilliland picks power
Gilliland, UK's junior forward and captain, converted her second-half penalty with authority.
The Wildcats' designated penalty taker, who also drew the foul in the penalty box after dribbling from midfield to the penalty spot chose to go high and down the middle on her PK.
The decision was tactical ... sort of.
"To be honest on the PK I usually place them, but I was so tired I literally just kicked the (you-know-what) out of it," Gilliland said. "That was my tactic. I knew she was going to dive one way so I just decided to kick it as hard as I could."
Wildcat goalies stand out. Literally.
Kayla King (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The sartorial talk around the Wildcats usually revolves around head coach Jon Lipsitz's suit selection (he wore a navy subtly striped suit with a white shirt and royal blue tie on Friday, by the way). For the Louisville game, the Wildcat goalies dominated the soccer fashion conversation as their shirts and shorts were a shade of yellow that would be most aptly compared to a highlighter.
"It looks great," King said. "I'm pretty much glowing in the dark. Coach Rayner picks out all of our stuff and she does a great job. I was surprised at this one when I came in the locker room, but I really like the look."