Crone's Goal Hands UK Win over SMU, Clinches Post-Season Berth
Nov. 4, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Senior forward Tim Crone's goal in the 65th minute gave the Kentucky men's soccer team a 1-0 win over SMU, clinching a berth in the 2009 Conference USA Tournament, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon at the UK Soccer Complex.
Kentucky (12-5-0, 5-3-0 C-USA) entered the game in fourth place in the league, with the conference taking the top four teams to the tournament, held Nov. 13-15 at the site of the regular-season champion. UK needed a win or a tie vs. SMU to clinch a berth, and with the win, improved its conference winning streak to five games, after starting the year 0-3-0 in league play. As the four seed in the tournament, UK will face off with the regular-season champion, with UAB (5-1-1), Tulsa (5-1-1) and Marshall (5-2-0) still in the mix for the title. UAB faces Marshall on the road Saturday and Tulsa travels to UCF (2-4-1) Saturday night.
"We haven't won anything yet so we're certainly not happy, but it gives us a chance to compete for a championship and we're going to do our best to go win that," UK head coach Ian Collins said following the game in an interview with the official blog of UKathletics.com, Cat Scratches. "It's not about making it. It's about winning it."
The win completes a remarkable comeback for the Wildcats, who after ranking a school-record No. 13 on Sept. 29, went on a three-match losing streak, with losses in the first three league matches and a 367-minute scoreless streak. UK rebounded with four consecutive conference wins on the road and the clinching win over league power SMU Wednesday.
"Most people wrote us off at 0-3 (in league play)," Collins said. "Everybody did except our own players and our own staff and maybe two or three other people. Everybody said we were done. We did it really hard. We won four games on the road in a tough league and then we took care of a big game today. I'm really proud of the players, the assistant coaches and everybody on this team for the effort they've put in. The effort they've put in the last month has been phenomenal. Nobody ever quits in this program. We just get stronger."
Crone's heroics are nothing new for the senior and Cincinnati native, as he now owns three career goals against SMU, including both goals in a UK comeback 2-1 win over then-ranked No. 1 SMU in 2007 at the UK Soccer Complex. Now with six career game-winning goals, including two in 2009, Crone ranks tied for sixth in the history of the program. In his UK career, Crone has played in 51 games with 12 goals and five assists, good for 29 points.
With its backs against the wall in the second half, UK responded with increased offensive pressure, culminating when Crone found the ball open inside the SMU box, slipping a roller past the SMU keeper at the far post for the decisive goal.
SMU (6-7-2, 2-3-2 C-USA) entered the game in fifth place in the league, needing a win vs. Kentucky and a win in its season finale against FIU over the weekend to clinch a post-season berth.
The Wildcats got a standout performance from its defense, which tallied its sixth shutout of the season for senior goalkeeper Dan Williams. A native of Fairfax Station, Va., Williams knocks his goals-against average on the year down to a league-leading 0.75 with the shutout, his 20th career clean sheet, third-most in UK career history. The four-year starting keeper saved four shots in the game, also getting a mitt on an SMU shot that bounced off the UK cross bar just minutes into the match.
Williams got a great defensive effort from his entire backline, a combination of preseason first-team All-America defender Barry Rice, 2008 All-Conference USA Freshman team selection Brad Walker and veteran stalwarts Tim Muessig and Drew Midkiff, in addition to talented freshman Chris Jumalon.
Rice, a member of the Hermann Trophy Player of the Year Watch List, was a force in his final regular-season conference game of his storied career, winning 12-of-14 contested header attempts, including four in the final three minutes of the game and a total of eight in the second half. On the year, Rice has won 112-of-136 contested header attempts, an 82-percent clip. In addition to anchoring the UK defense and winning 12 contested header attempts in the game, Rice also contributed a save early in the game, heading away a SMU shot that would have found the net.
"This is probably the biggest win in my career here," Rice said. "Nobody on campus expected us to be here. As a senior you're thinking your season and career are over (when you go down 0-3-0). The spirit among the guys is amazing to bounce back and win four in a row and to close it off at home. It's an amazing feeling. I couldn't be more happy than I am right now."
Kentucky returns to action in the regular-season finale Sunday, hosting non-conference foe High Point at 1 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex. The match will serve as senior day for eight Wildcat seniors.
UK was led offensively by freshman Matt Lodge, who fired a game-high four shots, and junior C.J. Tappel, who added three shots. Midkiff and junior Josh McCrary each added two shots, while Rice, Marco dos Santos, Tyler Burns and freshman Jacob Kemper each finished with a shot.
SMU goalkeeper Craig Hill saved four UK shots, facing 16 total Wildcat shot attempts, while SMU fired 13 shots, with six coming in the second half. UK had three corner kicks and SMU finished with four, with both teams called offsides five times.