Johan Cedergren’s journey to UK


Kentucky men’s soccer coach Johan Cedergren watches on during the Kentucky men’s soccer match against Louisville at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. Photo by Jonathan Krueger

By Arpan Dixit

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Watching and playing soccer as a kid with his father is where the love for the game developed for UK men’s head soccer coach Johan Cedergren.

Cedergren, 38-year-old native of Sölvesborg, Sweden, a small town of about 8,000 people, developed long-lasting friendships through passion for the sport.

“All the athletic guys, we played soccer in the summer and hockey in the winter,” Cedergren said. “That was your friendship group, so I think that is where my passion comes from. You find things that work for you and what you like.”

Being at UK was a dream come true for Cedergren, his wife Julia and their two children, Gavin and Abigail.

Cedergren took the helm of the program in 2011, becoming the third head coach in the history of the program. He made an immediate impact on a team that needed rejuvenation. The 2012 season saw Cedergren’s Cats achieve one of the best seasons in school history and host the first round of the NCAA tournament after finishing the regular season in the top 25.

Senior midfielder and captain Kristoffer Tollefsen has high praise for his coach who groomed him into the player and person he is today. Tollefsen made his way from Sandefjord, Norway, to play for UK.

“My first impression was a person that knew what he wanted and was super clear on what to do and how to get there,” Tollefsen said. “You are either on board or you’re not, and that’s a choice each person has to make.”

Cedergren, before coming to Lexington, played college soccer up the road at the University of Cincinnati where he was a standout. After his playing career was over and he got a business-finance degree, he attained his masters in business admission from another Cincinnati school, Xavier University.

His first coaching stop came at Dartmouth College, a top Ivy League school that had a successful soccer program under Cedergren’s leadership.

The Big Green had a record of 52-30-12, including a 22-9-3 record in league play, and two conference titles.

Dartmouth reached the NCAA tournament five straight years from 2007-2011. The school is one of 10 programs in the nation to play in five straight NCAA Tournaments.

Cedergren said being at UK has allowed him to learn from other coaches.

“I think being at Kentucky, how can you not say Coach Cal? You look at what he does, getting a new team every year, and having a chance to compete in a Final Four every year,” Cedergren said. “All the coaches here at Kentucky are doing a fantastic job and I think it’s taken us a little bit of time, but I feel like we belong as well.”

Being at Dartmouth, which doesn’t provide athletic scholarships, showed Cedergren the importance of getting a full education. His teams at Dartmouth won the NSCAA Team Academic Award for five straight seasons, including the highest GPA in the nation in 2009, at 3.46. His success doesn’t stop there. He has guided two All-Americans and 28 All-Ivy League Selections, also providing his graduating players a chance to fulfill their ultimate dream, to play professionally.

“At Kentucky, we have team rules and core values in regards to alcohol, curfews, and going to class,” Cedergren said. “I think all those things tie back to our end goal which is to do something that has never been done before. Our end goal here is to develop players that can play pro. If you’re telling men that you’re driven, if you want to be the best that you can be, you’re going to go to class and you don’t pick and choose what you’re going to be good at.”

Winning soccer games, league titles and national championships may seem like the ultimate goal, but becoming a better person off the field and receiving a top-quality education is what Cedergren wants to see out of his players throughout their most formidable years.

During his time in Lexington, Cedergren has added more accolades to add to his résumé, including winning 2012 Conference-USA Coach of the Year and picking up the biggest win in school history last season against No. 1 ranked Notre Dame in South Bend.

The Cats in 2013, along with a successful season, recorded a 3.35 team GPA during the spring semester. This was the highest recorded team-GPA since the university started keeping and maintaining records. Seeing what Cedergren’s expectations are with his team shows you what type of leader and coach he is, one that focuses on the betterment of the team.

Avid soccer fan and UK junior, Devin Dirks, goes to as many games as he is allowed by his schedule and has seen his team the develop over the last three years.

“Seeing what Coach Cedergren has done with the guys since I have been in college and seeing their development is truly remarkable,” Dirks said. “When he speaks, the team listens and I’ve noticed that he has expectations every game and sets goals for his team. Motivating them and providing them with the best opportunity to pursue their dream makes him a special coach that any soccer program would accept.”

Academics are important to Cedergren because he believes it affects the performance on the field. He stressed the importance of never missing class and putting the whole team in jeopardy because of one player’s mistakes. Cedergen plans to stay at Kentucky.

“He has been tremendous,” Tollefsen said. “It’s not just becoming a better soccer player, but also to be the best person you can be. On the field, it has been more about paying attention to details and really giving 100 percent. Off the field, to be more aware of taking care of the things that matter.”