Kentucky soccer shows promise in spring match win over Bellarmine


Kentucky’s Eythor Bjorgolfsson (9) celebrates his goal during the Kentucky vs. Wright State men’s soccer game on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, at the Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

Kentucky soccer picked up right where it left off, after what was considered by many to be its best season in program history, shutting out Bellarmine 2-0 to begin its spring schedule.

Despite there being concern surrounding veteran leadership, after the team honored 13 seniors in its 3-0 win over FAU on Nov. 5, Kentucky ultimately only graduated seven of those seniors, returning six for an extra season.

While the retention of nearly half of the team’s seniors may make it seem as though there was little lost, this was far from the case, as several of the seven seniors lost played integral roles in making the team as successful as it was.

Most notably, there were concerns surrounding the goalkeeper position as last year’s starter, graduate student transfer Jan Hoffelner, was one of the veterans UK lost in the offseason.

Hoffelner allowed just four goals in the regular season and eight goals in the season as a whole, allowing two in the Wildcats’ 2-1 loss at Clemson in its second game of the NCAA Tournament.

To make matters worse, Kentucky’s back-up from last season, Ryan Troutman, made the decision to transfer to Louisville to join the Cardinals’ soccer team.

Seeing what worked before, Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren brought in veteran goalie Isaac Walker from Western Michigan, who notched four saves and held Kentucky to just one goal at The Bell on Sep. 19.

Walker, while not having much of an opportunity to shine in the spring exhibition with Bellarmine putting up zero shots on goal, still managed to notch a save that drew a loud response from the crowd near the end of the first half.

Kentucky’s back-up goalie, freshman Ryan Jack, hails from Floyd E. Kellam High School in Virginia, and while not seeing the field against Bellarmine, will look to develop and train under the veteran Walker.

While goalkeeping was the biggest concern, Kentucky also had questions surrounding its ability to score the ball, with Daniel Evans and Luke Andrews, two seniors not returning to the team, having combined for ten goals last season and finishing as part of a three-way tie for leading scorer.

Luckily for Kentucky, the third member of the aforementioned tie, junior Eythor Bjorgolfsson, did return to the team and even got one into the net, scoring UK’s second goal in the 58’.

Kentucky also saw an unlikely candidate step up early with graduate student Cameron Wheeler securing the first goal of the night in the 10’, with the former Louisville Cardinal only having one official goal during his tenure in Lexington, ironically against his prior team.

Similar to last season, Kentucky had a lot of opportunities it was unable to capitalize on with goals, but Cedergren’s defensive unit made sure the missed opportunities didn’t matter, having shut down any chance Bellarmine had to make it pay for it.

While Hoffelner took a lot of credit for Kentucky’s success last season, with the team remaining undefeated until Oct. 30, the defense contributed heavily as well, limiting the amount of chances opposing teams had to get at Hoffelner in the first place.

While it is still the first spring game of the season and the results do not count towards any meaningful metrics, the defensive unit showed a lot of promise that it can return to form and potentially even lead to another long winning streak for Kentucky in the fall.

Surprisingly, the team seemed to function quite well together, which is not always the case for the first spring game of the season, but may be in big part due to the fact that the Wildcats returned 15 players, many of whom saw consistent minutes in the season prior.

Apart from the seven seniors, Kentucky only lost four other players to other ventures, with only Oliver Juul, who joined HB Koge in Denmark, seeing consistent minutes on the field in 2021.

In the place of its losses, Kentucky brought in two transfers, both from Western Michigan, in Walker and junior midfielder Brennan Creek, who looked to fit right in with the Wildcats lineup and, was more often than not difficult to differentiate as a newcomer to the team.

UK also brought in two freshmen in the form of the aforementioned backup goalie Jack, and local talent Taco Nsimpasi.

Nsimpasi played soccer at Lexington Christian Academy, growing up in the city, and trained with MLS team FC Cincinnati’s academy team before coming to UK.

He was absent for the first half of play, but played heavy minutes in the second half against the Knights.

Nsimpasi somewhat showed his age early on, finding himself overpowered or knocked over by some of the larger players he faced on occasion, and engaging in a bit of passive play at times, opting instead to watch what the veterans on the team do before acting on his own.

Despite this, he looked to find his confidence and showed a lot of promise in the game, wasting no time picking himself up after getting knocked down, and fighting to get in on the action during several near goals, showing off one of his better assets, his speed, in the process.

With the passive play mostly gone by the end of his first game and strength and physicality being something that will improve with experience and offseason workouts with the team, Nsimpasi gave spectators a lot to look forward to as he continues to develop, and looks to potentially be an integral piece of the team in the years to come.

Overall, while it’s not worth deciding entirely how good a team will be after one spring game, Kentucky showed a lot of promise that it may have what it takes to live up to the expectations after last season.

The defense appears to be sturdy once again, and while imperfect, the offense got the job done and put up two goals on the same goalie it put up two against in the regular season of 2021.

With three more spring games scheduled, one on the road and two at home, younger players like Nsimpasi and Jack will likely have opportunities to continue to develop, and transfers such as Walker and Creek can further integrate into their new team even more than they already have.

Last season may have been great before ending in heartbreak, but it’s hard to imagine spectators thinking of the pitfalls of the prior team after what they saw on Saturday.

Kentucky soccer returns to the pitch on Saturday, April 2, on the road against UAB. It will serve as Kentucky’s lone road exhibition after its game against the USL’s Chattanooga Red Wolves was canceled.