UK’s defense falters at wrong time as Cats upset in NCAA tournament


Senior Kaelon Fox buries his head in disappointment after the game against Creighton on Sunday, November 20, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky lost the match 3-2. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

By Chase Campbell

The UK men’s soccer team was shocked Sunday afternoon at the Bell, as the visiting Creighton Blue Jays had their way with the Cats in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

It was UK’s first time as a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, and hopes were high. The Blue Jays took home the victory 3-2, in a scrappy, physical contest that included 32 fouls, a yellow card, and two ejections.

Creighton had just come off a win against Tulsa in the first round, and have been on a tear recently, making it to their conference championship. UK was eliminated in the first round of the Conference USA tournament. However, UK had not lost all season at home, and allowed just 0.25 goals per game at home averaged a goal allowance of around 0.25 at home, the best in the conference.

The script seemed to be flipped today, however, as Creighton’s hard-nosed defense swiftly outclassed UK, and the Cats’ defense had no answer for the Blue Jays’ sharp shooting. Before the first half was over, the Cats had allowed as many goals as they had allowed at home the entire 2016 season, finding themselves in a 0-2 hole after the first 45 minutes.

The second half was rife with frustration and collision, and it didn’t look much better for the Cats. Kevin Barajas scored off a set piece from Connor Probert a little farther than midway through the second half, and from there, the tensions began to rise.

Several hard fouls and a late Creighton goal in which the scorer, Karim Sawaf, seemed to be far offside. As tensions mounted, players had agitated exchanges with each other, and a red card on Probert brought the frustration to a head.

“The referee sees it one way, and maybe we see it another,” UK head coach Johan Cedergren said after the game. “On a different day, maybe it would go in our favor.”

The Cats scored again in the last five minutes, when J.J. Williams scored off a corner kick from Charlie Reymann, and for a moment, seemed to have a chance to tie the game in the last two minutes.

When their offensive attempt failed, Creighton captain Ricardo Perez seemed to break downfield, and looked to be trying to score. UK keeper Stuart Ford tackled him, earning him a red card and finishing what was easily the most physical game UK has played all season.

The focus now shifts to next season, which will surely feature several growing pains for what will be a young Kentucky team, as six seniors are graduating this year. There was very promising play from young players Probert and JJ Williams, who pushed the pace and both got points. Even with the bleak emotions during the press conference, Cedergren and all three captains spoke to how hopeful and excited they were for the young forces on the team.

“All the guys that are returning next year, I think they’re going to take it to the next level,” Senior captain Jordan Wilson said. “We’re leaving the program in good hands.”