When college sports fans think of the University of Louisville, slam dunks and touchdowns come to mind. It’s Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino – a longtime basketball powerhouse that of late has had considerable gridiron success.
But last week, with more than 7,000 fans watching in a new $18 million stadium, men’s soccer coach Ken Lolla got his 100th win as the Cardinals started their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 1-0 win over Maryland.
This is now a soccer school.
Success in men’s soccer has been building for a few years now – Lolla and the Cards narrowly missed a national championship in 2010, when they finished the season with just one loss, in the national final. But as Lolla and Louisville try to build a true soccer power, they’ll now have to do it in the toughest men’s soccer conference in the nation, the ACC.
Ranked No. 15 by Bennettrank coming into the weekend, the Cards (1-0-1) are a strong contender even in the soccer-centric ACC.
While Louisville was held to a scoreless draw in its latest match Friday night against Cornell, the Cards outshot the Big Red 18-6 and were in largely in control for most of the game. For Lolla that’s not much consolation, and it may be premature to declare that the Cardinals have fully arrived on the list of regular national soccer powers.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Lolla said after the game. “…we simply didn’t do enough tonight from the very beginning, which again shows us that we have a ways to go still.”
The draw with a clearly weaker Cornell team was in marked contrast with last week’s upset of BR-6 Maryland. Andrew Brody got the game-winner for the Cardinals in that game, with a 54th minute header off of a cross by preseason All-American Ricardo Velazco. The goal earned Brody ACC Player of the Week honors.
After that game, Lolla sounded very much like a coach trying to build a soccer tradition at UL.
“Hopefully, the people tonight had a good experience, not only in the soccer aspect, but the venue and all the amenities that go with it,” Lolla said, “I hope that they continue to come back and support us. We have some great games and hopefully the fan base continues to grow.”
If you’re looking for a guy to build a soccer program, Lolla is as good of a choice as anyone.
The 1983 Duke grad came to Louisville from Akron, which was a nationally respected program during his tenure, and before that built a strong NAIA program at Belmont Abbey.
Lolla is now in his ninth year at Louisville. Before his arrival, UL had just seven winning seasons in 27 years as a varsity program.
The Maryland game marked the opening of the new Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium at Louisville, with 5,300 seats (plus additional standing room), a natural turf pitch and a new training facility the team will share with the women’s team. A beautiful complex modeled on the facility used by MLS’ Sporting Kansas City. The new home should augment the team’s recruiting efforts.
Joining the ACC is a double-edged sword for the Cardinals. Wins, unquestionably, will be harder to come by for Louisville. But if they do come, it will be against some of the best competition in Division I.
Though long time powerhouse Maryland – winners of the ACC last year – has left for the Big Ten, six ACC teams were ranked over the weekend in the Bennettrank Top 25: defending national champion Notre Dame (4), Virginia (5), North Carolina (8), Duke(11), Wake Forest (14), and Clemson (16), in addition to Louisville (15). Boston College (38) and Syracuse (40) are also in the Benettrank national Top 40.
Louisville will be fortunate to not have Virginia or UNC on their schedule, but the Cardinals do have to play at Notre Dame next month, while getting Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson at home. They will also have a non-conference home match against a perennially strong Indiana team.
This coming week the Cardinals travel to play an undefeated St. Louis team on Tuesday, Sept. 9, before hosting Duke next Saturday, Sept. 14.