Physicality, missed opportunities reflect men’s soccer’s Elite Eight loss


Junior JJ Williams on the ground in pain after being fouled. University of Kentucky men’s soccer team lost to University of Maryland 1-0 in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

Having 3,223 fans in attendance, being undefeated at home this season, boasting two of the C-USA’s top-ranked players with J.J Williams and Kalil Elmedkhar and more helped the No. 3 seed UK men’s soccer team appear primed to defeat the No. 11 seed Maryland Terrapins in the Elite Eight.

But, when the stage grew bigger and the lights got brighter, the Cats were shell-shocked.

“I just don’t think we produced that last five percent that we needed to get from an Elite Eight to a Final Four,” UK head coach Johan Cedergren said.

The Terps stunned Kentucky’s players and fans Friday night following the 1-0 upset. Glancing at the stat sheet reveals one contributing factor: physicality.  

UK and Maryland both combined for 35 fouls in the game. 20 of those came from the Cats – the most they’ve had in a game this season. Each team was issued two yellow cards. Three of the four yellow cards came in a seven-minute span in the second half.

“I think that at times it got very competitive, but I don’t think that there was anything that was over line or frustration or bad behavior,” Cedergren said. “I just think that we’re pushing as hard as we can to get back in the game.”

Williams, one of the yellow card recipients, was heavily engaged against Terps’ defender Donovan Pines. Standing at 6’5” and weighing 195 lbs., Pines measures almost exactly the same as Williams, who is 6’4” and 200 lbs. The two showed frustration with one another and Williams fouled him several times and shoved him at one point.

According to Williams, his matchup against Hines was one “he expected.”

“I knew it was coming. It’s a battle I was looking forward to all week,” Williams said. “I’ve been looking for somebody who’s going to push me. He just won the battle today.”

Maryland limited both Williams and Elmedkhar to no shots on goal in a game for the first time this season. The “dynamic duo” tandem of Williams and Elmedkhar, as Williams has described it, combined for a whopping 29 goals and 18 assists this season.

Williams said he “takes ownership” for failing to capitalize on scoring chances.

“Big players are supposed to step up and I didn’t do that tonight,” Williams said. “We created chances, we always do, and we didn’t put them in the back of the net.”

Williams’ co-team captain, senior Tanner Hummel, played in his last-ever game as a Wildcat. With tears streaming down his face after the loss, he echoed Williams and acknowledged him.

“In the second half we had multiple (chances). Some days it’s just not your day to score and it just happened to be that way today,” Hummel said.

Despite another long offseason looming ahead, Cedergren said he is ready to build off of a “magical, inspiring” season.

“Kevin [Saal] and Mitch [Barnhart] didn’t hire me at Kentucky to make an Elite Eight. With as many guys as we have coming back, the goal is, ‘can we do even better next year?’”