Kentucky Holds Off Bulldogs
LEXINGTON – Nathan Marks first career goal was enough for the Kentucky men’s soccer on Saturday night as the Wildcats held off Alabama A&M, 1-0, to win the UK Invitational at the UK Soccer Complex.
With the win, UK improved to 2-0 on the year, having also downed rival Louisville on Friday night. The Bulldogs fell to 1-1. It is the fifth time in school history, and first since 2003, that the Wildcats have opened a season with back-to-back wins.
“It was a good effort,” Kentucky head coach Ian Collins said. “Physically, we are very tired. Friday night took a lot out of us and Alabama A&M is a good team. So, I’m happy with the result. The guys worked hard, but you could tell we were tired as the game wore on. But we dug in, played hard and got the win.”
Marks (Louisville, Ky./Trinity) buried a shot in the eighth minute from the middle of a crowd after the ball was played to him on a Kentucky corner kick. Michael D’Agostino (Langley, British Columbia/Langley) served it in, where Thomas Senecal (Bethesda, Md./The Maret School) knocked it down and Andrew Alexander (Atlanta, Ga./Pace) found Marks.
The Wildcats owned the first two thirds of the game, firing 11 shots to Alabama A&M’s four. In fact, Kentucky’s defense held the Bulldogs without a shot for the first 30 minutes of the second half. However, UK could not build on its lead despite producing a number of quality chances.
The best scoring opportunity came in the 61st minute. D’Agostino began a furious sequence of events by lacing a shot that Bulldog goalkeeper Mdluli Mlondi made a diving save on. The rebound bounced right to Travis Young (Raleigh, N.C./Ravenscroft School), who fired another shot, only to see Mlondi make the save. Young’s rebound fell to D’Agostino, who seemed to have a clear shot to the back of the net, but a defender deflected his shot just wide.
In the final 15 minutes, Alabama A&M turned up the offensive pressure as it looked for the equalizer. Jabulani Selumane had a pair of shots go just wide on good looks.
“We just got tired,” Collins said. “We were playing four or five freshmen and they got tired. We had a very tough game Friday, and it took its toll on us. We have to build on this.”
The Bulldogs best chance to tie came in the 89th minute from MfanaFuthi Bhembe, who found himself 10 yards out with only goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley North) between him and the net. He ripped his shot only to have Gruenebaum corral it to preserve the victory for UK.
“Andy played real well tonight,” Collins said. “He made one great save in the first half and then came up big all second half. We needed him tonight.”
After posting a pair of shutouts, Gruenebaum was named the tournament’s Defensive MVP. The shutout was the fourth straight for Kentucky at home and extended the Wildcats home shutout streak to 354:11 dating back to last season.
Kentucky returns to action on Friday, Sept. 8 when it takes on Gonzaga at Corvallis, Ore. The Wildcats are next at home on Sept. 14 when they welcome Georgetown to the UK Soccer Complex.
Chris Archer, High Point