Kentucky soccer: NCAA No. 1 seeded Wildcats want fans to pack The Bell

Official NCAA soccer ball ( Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
Official NCAA soccer ball ( Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) /

The temperature might be bitter cold but the red-hot and undefeated Kentucky soccer team is the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA College Cup tournament and hosting the second-round match they want Big Blue Nation to pack The Bell on Sunday against South Florida. 

Mother Nature may help with the home-field advantage with kickoff slated for 6 PM EST at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex and temperatures expected to be 29 degrees and 25 degrees late in the contest. It’s safe to say the Bulls aren’t used to this kind of weather in Tampa, Florida.

The Kentucky players are hoping for a rowdy Big Blue Nation crowd and hoping for a record home crowd of over 3,500 fans.

Kentucky soccer received a first-round bye by virtue of its seeding while South Florida defeated Hofstra 4-2 in the opening round netting a pair of goals in each half.

The Wildcats (14-0-5, 5-0-3 Sun Belt) compete in the Sun Belt Conference in soccer and won the regular season title and then the conference title defeating James Madison 2-0 and the NCAA automatic bid. With their season success, the Cats made history by earning its highest seed ever earned in the NCAA Tournament, as well as the highest seed the Sun Belt Conference has ever had.

But in the game of soccer, all it takes is one goal and your whole season can change in an instant.

South Florida (9-6-4) out of the American Athletic Conference is in the second round for the first time since 2012 when it tied Florida Gulf Coast and advanced on penalty kicks, 5-3, and is no stranger to making the postseason making the tournment18 of the past 20 years, including 12 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Kentucky soccer is making its 12th overall NCAA tournament with the first ever taking place in 1999. Coach Johan Cedergren has built the program steadily including in 2018 when his squad made the Elite Eight, the furthest it has ever advanced. He was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year this season and now has137 victories in his 11 years.

A win and Kentucky would face the winner of Pittsburgh and No. 16 Akron in the Elite Eight.

The Wildcats’ success has come with firing an average of 16.4 shots on goal per match while playing stingy defense allowing their opponents just an average of 6.8 shots on goal.

With 140 shots on goal, the Wildcats have put 48 of those into the back of the net while the defense has only allowed opponents to get off 48 and made good on a mere 14. That’s due in part to senior defender Luis Grassow who is the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

True freshman goalkeeper Casper Mols (10-0-4) from Aabernaa, Denmark in 14 games has allowed just 10 goals and made 22 saves which garnered him Sun Belt Goalkeeper of the Year. Issac Walker is just as stingy allowing 4 in five games with 10 saves.

Leading the attack for Kentucky is Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Eythor Bjorgolfsson who has punched in 10 goals and has two assists while Casper Grening has found the net nine times and assisted on five of the Wildcats’ goals including three winners.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, they will be without Bjorgolfsson after he received a red card for violent conduct during the win over James Madison on Sunday. Bjorgolfsson will be forced to sit out and serve a one-game suspension.

Nick Gutmann though is the man setting things up for the Wildcats and leading the team in scoring with five goals and 16 assists. He leads the nation in total assists and assists per game.

As the tournament’s top seed Kentucky will have home-field advantage throughout the tournament with games being played in Lexington.