Strong Start Lead No. 23 Soccer to C-USA Tournament Opening Win over Marshall, 4-2

Nov. 12, 2008


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DALLAS, Texas -- Senior forward Michael Strong netted his team-leading eighth and ninth goals of the season to lead the No. 23 Kentucky men's soccer team to a Conference USA Tournament first-round win over the Marshall Thundering Herd, 4-2, setting a new school-record for the longest unbeaten streak in the 18-year history of the program, on Wednesday afternoon at SMU's Westcott Field.

Kentucky (11-4-4, 6-1-1 C-USA) is unbeaten in its last eight matches, a new school-record, eclipsing the previous record of seven-straight unbeaten, which had happened three times in school annals, 1997, 1998 and 2004. UK has now totaled 39 goals on the season, good for a tie for fourth-place all-time in school history. The red-hot Wildcats have not lost since an Oct. 8 setback at No. 7 Tulsa, posting wins over No. 18 South Carolina, No. 8 Michigan, UCF, UAB, FIU and at No. 22 SMU, in addition to draws with No. 14 Indiana and Memphis.

Strong, a San Antonio native, made a splashing return to the state of Texas, totaling his third two-goal game of the season. Of his nine goals on the year, four came against Marshall, as Strong netted two goals in the regular-season meeting at Marshall. In his career, Strong - a 2004 All-MAC selection - ranks sixth-best all-time with 20 career goals. Strong led UK with four shots fired, three on goal, despite playing a marginal 41 minutes in the game, using his game-breaking speed to immediately affect the contest.

"I thought Marshall played well and really competed hard," head coach Ian Collins said. "Both teams gave everything they had. I thought Marshall was terrific. They just wouldn't go away, I wished they would've, but they wouldn't. We are finding our way back from injuries and he (Strong) is one of them. Hopefully now we can get everybody healthy. I was pleased with what he did and pleased with our work rates and I thought our guys did well."

Kentucky dominated the pace of play throughout the game, with several chances that did not go throughout the game, including a Marco dos Santos shot that hit the cross bar. UK outshot Marshall 14-12, with the two teams each totaling five corner kicks. UK goalkeeper Dan Williams posted one save, while Greg Walter tallied six saves. In two games against Marshall in 2008, UK has posted two wins and an 8-2 goal margin.

Tyler Burns and C.J. Tappel each joined Strong as Wildcats with goals, with Burns goal getting the scoring started in the fifth minute. Burns took a cross from Masumi Turnbull, firing a one-timer past Walter for his second goal of the season. The assist marked Turnbull's 17th of his career, good for sole possession of third-place all-time in the UK record books.

In the 15th minute, Tappel connected with Jason Griffiths and dos Santos on a shot just outside the box, a low-lining shot that dived past Walter in goal and fell into the back of the net. The goal was Tappel's third of the year and the assist marked Griffiths second on the year and dos Santos' team-high tying fifth. Dos Santos, the 2008 C-USA Newcomer of the Year, ranks second on the team with 13 points.

UK managed to net another goal in the 33rd frame as Strong got his first goal of the game - marking the 23rd time in school annals UK has totaled three goals in a half. Strong found himself and his game-breaking speed on a breakaway thanks to an assist from Sam Vernalls. Strong beat the keeper with a gentle shot that fell into the right corner of the net.

Marshall (3-14, 3-5 C-USA) got on the board in the 69th minute, as Jira Cooley hooked up with Dustin Dawes on a shot from the top of the box, bouncing off the cross bar and past the outreached hand of Williams.

Strong netted his ninth of the year in the 72nd minute, hooking up with Bingy Lara, who lofted a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box at an angle. His bending cross found the head of Strong, whose leaping header found the back of the net. 

The Thundering Herd tacked on a goal in the 81st minute, as Kolby Lacrone netted a shot from the right side.

UK junior defender Barry Rice, the 2008 C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, won 7-for-11 contested header attempts in the match, to bring his season total 168-for-191 contested headers won, an 88-percent clip. Rice, a native of Parma, Ohio, became the first player in the history of the conference to win C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons, claiming the award in 2007.

The 23rd-ranked and No. 2 seeded Wildcats will face UCF match in a 6 p.m. ET matchup on Friday. Sixth-seeded UCF beat No. 3 seeded Memphis 1-0.