Kentucky mens soccer defeats South Carolina 2-1, remains undefeated


Isabel McSwain

The Wildcats celebrate after a goal during the No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 8 South Carolina soccer match in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 2-1. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens soccer defeated South Carolina 2-1 at the Bell on Sunday, remaining undefeated in the 2022 season and advancing to the semi-finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

The matchup was one the Wildcats were no stranger to heading in, having defeated the Gamecocks 3-0 in Columbia less than a week prior to end the regular season.

“It was nice because we normally do a post-game breakdown and then a scout video, but we could combine the two (to prepare for this match),” Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren said. “There were a couple of things (from Tuesday) that we wanted to tweak for today and I thought that we did that really well.”

Kentucky entered the Sun Belt Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, having finished the regular season undefeated and getting the nod over Marshall.

With the placement at No. 1 Kentucky is guaranteed to host the entirety of its’ tournament matchups and gained the right to face the No. 8 seed in the first round, which happened to be the Gamecocks.

Prior to kick off, West Virginia defeated Coastal Carolina to earn the right to face off against the winner between Kentucky and South Carolina, with the Chanticleers likely having played their final match of the season with the loss.

On the other side of the bracket, Marshall hosted James Madison before being upset 1-0 and Georgia State defeated Old Dominion 3-0, filling out the conference semifinals.

Moving back to Lexington, the final score line of 2-1 did not reflect the lopsided affair the home fans were treated to.

Kentucky outshot the Gamecocks 16-6 overall and 9-3 on target, it just wasn’t able to make as many shots fall for a variety of reasons.

“The hardest thing to do in soccer is score goals,” Cedergren said. “I’m happy with (the goals we scored) and hopefully we left a couple in the locker for Wednesday.”

Despite the eventual loss it was South Carolina who struck first in Lexington, scoring in the first half on a fast-break opportunity following a Wildcat scoring attempt.

Seeing goalkeeper Casper Mols stuck in a two-on-one situation, the Gamecocks sent the ball past the freshman to lead Kentucky for the first time this season.

“I thought there was a foul in the buildup (to the goal),” Cedergen said. “But it’s the postseason, it’s win or go home, and I thought we played pretty well in the first half. Even the goal we gave up, we just never stopped.”

South Carolina very nearly went up 2-0 after yet another fast break attempt but an athletic block by defender Lucca Rodriguez kept Kentucky in the match.

“Lucca and Luis (Grassow) do a really really good job,” Cedergren said. “Of course, they’re backed up with Casper in goal and Max (Miller) and Screenie (Robert Screen) as well. There was one tackle in particular for Lucca in the first half that if he doesn’t make that one, maybe it’s a 2-0 score that we have to dig ourselves out of, so I’m very happy for him, he’s been playing well all year.”

Entering the break trailing 1-0, questions began to arise as to whether or not Kentucky’s undefeated run would come to an end prior to the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky finally broke through in the 59’ though, courtesy of leading goal scorer Eythor Bjorgolfsson following an assist by both Ben Damge and Screen.

“I feel like throughout the whole game we were in control as we are (in) most games,” Bjorgolfsson said. “I feel like we were definitely knocking on the door even in the first half and I think that one goal created more momentum for us and from that point on the momentum was just ours.”

With the weight of the equalizer off their shoulders, the Wildcats held onto the reins and ultimately took the lead in the 75’ courtesy of Damge, who was assisted by Casper Grening.

Despite the best efforts of the Gamecocks to keep their season alive, UK was able to hold onto the lead and claim victory when the final whistle blew.

“I feel really good (with the win),” Cedergren said. “Great win, great come from behind. I thought we played really well in the first half but made some tactical adjustments in the second half. You have to give a lot of credit to South Carolina, they worked really hard, they definitely gave it a go, but I feel like the better team won for sure.”

The Wildcats have two days to rest before hosting West Virginia on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex, where they will look to earn a bid to the Sun Belt Tournament final in their first season with the conference.

“We have two days to recover to get ready,” Cedergren said. “I feel like we had a really good game plan going into that game (in Morgantown earlier this season) and I think we’re even better defensively (now). We’re really excited to host the semifinal. West Virginia is a very good team with a lot of good players and good coaching, but for us, we know how good we can be. It’s just about us playing to our level.”

Kick off against the Mountaineers is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST.