The University of Kentucky, currently the No. 2 team in the country per the United Soccer Coaches Poll, has gradually become linked with a philosophical standard for building a soccer program.
Mixing in a healthy dose of international talent along with premier players from domestic soil, Wildcat head coach Johan Cedergren has spearheaded his program’s rise to annual championship contention. On Saturday night — for the first time since 1995 — Kentucky marched into Bill Armstrong Stadium and defeated the Hoosiers 3-0 on their home turf.
Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley, who notoriously owns the Midwest recruiting scene, has commended Cedergren’s approach in the past. Still, he said he plans to stay true to his ideology on roster-building.
“We’re not opposed to bringing some international players here. You might see a couple next year,” Yeagley said after the match. “But I still feel that our model works. I still believe in the American player, so philosophically I’m going to be a little stubborn.”
Saturday’s match certainly had its quirks. In fact, Yeagley coined it, “one of the strangest games (he’s) ever been a part of.” However, Kentucky’s victory symbolized what is perhaps a pendulum shift in collegiate soccer.
With all three of the Wildcats’ goals scored by international players, Cedergren proved that his roster-building methods are capable of taking down a titan in the sport.
Outside the aforementioned historical context of Kentucky’s win, the match saw another first that was more pertinent. After recording at least one goal in each of its 13 contests prior to Saturday, Indiana came up empty in 90 minutes against Wildcats.
Despite not finding the back of the net, Yeagley found positives from his team’s performance.
“That was not a 3-0 game. Credit to them, they’re good,” Yeagley said. “Final actions, final third were a little bit off, but stats can be misleading. The game felt like it was tight, and it was. It was more let’s not get caught up in the score, this game’s not going to hurt us.”
Speaking to the oddity of the result, Kentucky notched just three shots on goal. Evidently, each of them found their way past redshirt junior goalkeeper Bryant Pratt.
While the first and last of the scores came by way of blistering counterattacks and skillful play in the attacking third, the second was different. Wildcat senior midfielder Nick Gutmann, while having plenty of space to fire his shot, sent it directly at Pratt, whose gloves directed the ball into the net.
“I think he was in between maybe diving and kind of got caught in a tough spot. One he should save, and he knows that,” Yeagley said. “Pivotal moment, pivotal time in the game, those are all ones that make it more difficult.”
After Hoosier fans had grown accustomed to former Indiana goalkeeper and now Cincinnati FC star Roman Celentano’s heroics, mistakes in net can be tough to swallow. Though Yeagley has repeatedly said the position is still being evaluated, with postseason play looming around the corner, a lack of consistency in the last line of defense is unsettling.
Mixed performances have burdened the Hoosiers on multiple occasions this season. In draws to Michigan and the University of Portland, Indiana squandered two highly winnable matches. Yet, in impressive wins over No. 22 Akron, Butler and Penn State, the Hoosiers played like national title contenders.
Though Saturday’s scoreline may not depict it, the Hoosiers’ backline, a unit that has had an up and down season, performed admirably.
“For a really good attacking team, they didn’t pose a lot of threatening feeling tonight,” Yeagley said. “Our backline defended very well. We held them to few chances which is the frustration.”
Frustration is something that has Yeagley and the team have experienced more this season than in those prior. With a pair of in-state matchups against University of Evansville and Trine University on the horizon, however, the Hoosiers have an opportunity to instill confidence before hosting Maryland in the final match of the regular season.