The #1 Louisville men’s soccer team began its 2010 campaign either unranked or ranked at, or near, the bottom of the list in all five of the major college soccer polls. Going undefeated and tying only three matches has turned the squad into a #1 team heading into Santa Barbara for the Final Four.
“It was predicated on work ethic and attitude,” Head Coach Ken Lolla said. “We have a deep team and a strong belief [that we can win]. We also have a resiliency to keep moving forward.”
When the 2010 season commenced, no one expected the Cardinals to make the College Cup, let alone earn the #1 seed. They were picked to finish second in the Big East behind St. John’s and had a mediocre preseason.
However, Louisville started winning in the regular season, piecing together more and more wins and catching the attention of the rest of the nation. They gradually climbed the rankings.
The team won the Big East Tournament over Providence in a penalty kick shootout. Junior forward Colin Rolfe leads the Cardinals’ offensive attack with nine goals and seven assists this season.
“He has made a difference not only with his goal scoring, but he has created opportunities as well,” Lolla said. “He’s a lot for defenses to handle.”
He is closely followed by junior midfielder Nick DeLeon and freshman midfielder Dylan Mares, who have each added another six goals and three assists to balance out the Louisville attack.
Along with redshirt junior goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux, who has allowed .74 goals a match on average, the Cardinals have outscored opponents 47-17 this season.
After closing out the regular season and Big East playoffs undefeated, the Cardinals earned a seed into the national tournament and skipped the first round of play. In the next round, they faced the College of Charleston, who gave the top seed quite a game. The Cougars stayed neck and neck with the Cardinals throughout the entire match before the Cardinals scored twice in the last six minutes of play to seal a 3-1 victory.
In front of a University of Kentucky record crowd of 5,562 (an insignificant number compared to the UCSB crowds at Harder), Louisville broke a 1-1 tie in the 63rd minute to advance to the quarterfinals against UCLA — a 5-4 victory that was arguably the most exciting match of the tournament.
The quarterfinal game between perennial powerhouse UCLA and Louisville may have been the most exciting game in the NCAA tournament this year and has provided the most goals thus far. UCLA struck first in the 8th minute as junior forward Eder Arreola slid a ball past Bourdeaux, and the Cardinals found themselves trailing for the first time in the tournament.
With just one minute remaining in regulation and the score tied 4-4 against UCLA, freshman forward Aaron Horton dribbled his way through an exhausted Bruin defense to score, giving the Cardinals a 5-4 victory and a ticket to the College Cup in Santa Barbara.
Louisville defines itself by its resiliency. The team has been to five overtime games this season and won three of them. Its balance of both attack and defense makes Louisville a formidable opponent.
“It’s a product of being fit enough and having depth,” Lolla said.
Their next opponent should prove to be another test. North Carolina (16-3-4 overall) is making its third consecutive College Cup appearance.
“[North Carolina is] a very talented team,” Lolla said. “They’re very technically gifted and [deserve] to be in the Final Four.”