No. 1 Wildcats begin path to the College Cup against South Florida


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky players celebrate with the championship trophy after after the No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 7 James Madison soccer match in the championship round of the Sun Belt Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 2-0. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 1 Kentucky mens soccer begins its path to the College Cup at home on Sunday, facing off against South Florida (USF) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats earned a first-round bye, entering the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and the only currently undefeated Division-1 program.

The Cats earned the No. 1 seed on Monday after having been projected No. 2 for weeks, surpassing now No. 2 Washington, who was defeated 1-0 by Oregon State to close out the regular season.

UK currently stands at 14-0-5 following its sweep of the Sun Belt Tournament, last defeating James Madison 2-0 to claim a second straight conference title.

Kentucky will now face USF, who reigned supreme over Hofstra 4-2 in Tampa on Thursday, in its first match of the NCAA Tournament.

Looking at resumes, the Bulls and Wildcats have one mutual opponent: Tulsa.

The Wildcats traveled to Oklahoma on Sept. 11 to battle the then No. 20 Golden Hurricane in their first road matchup of the season, ultimately reaching a 1-1 draw.

The Bulls, on the other hand, played Tulsa just under a month later on Oct. 9 in Florida, ultimately coming out on top 2-1.

Tulsa went on to earn the No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will host Georgetown on Sunday.

On paper, even with USF having the better result over a mutual opponent, the Wildcats are far-and-away the favorite in the match, with USF having six losses on the season.

That said, one aspect that may create a bit more drama than otherwise expected is Kentucky being forced to play without its leading scorer, Eythor Bjorgolfsson.

Bjorgolfsson is suspended for the match after suffering a red card against James Madison, though UK head coach Johan Cedergren felt as though it was the wrong call.

The Norwegian striker has recorded 10 goals this season, one more than second place Casper Grening.

While the lack of Bjorgolfsson will make the match a bit more difficult offensively for UK, Cedergren feels confident that Ben Damge, who has scored six goals this season, will fill his role and keep the Cats rolling.

On USF’s end, the Bulls have scored far less than the Wildcats this season. Kentucky has scored a combined 48 goals with only 14 allowed against it, while USF has scored just 28 goals while allowing 26 against it.

Overall, 12 USF players have scored this season, nine of which have scored two or fewer, while 13 Wildcats have scored this season, five of which have scored five or more goals.

On defense, USF has recorded four clean sheets with redshirt senior goalkeeper Jackson Weyman, while the Wildcats have recorded 10 clean sheets this season with freshman goalkeeper Casper Mols.

Looking at recent form, Kentucky has gone 5-0 in its last five matches, winning by a combined 12-1, while USF has gone 4-1, losing 2-0 to No. 1 FIU in the American Athletic Conference Championship Match.

USF outscored its opponents by a combined score of 9-6 in that period, with nearly half of the nine goals coming in the 4-2 win over Hofstra.

Another factor that may play a role in the match is the weather. The weather forecast displayed a low of 53-degrees Fahrenheit in Tampa on Thursday while the weather forecast for Lexington on Sunday currently predicts a high of 32-degrees.

The Wildcats, for their part and to their benefit, are no stranger to playing in the colder weather, with the win over JMU taking place while the thermometer displayed around 34-degrees.

Overall, it’s little surprise that the Wildcats will be favored to come out on top, but it will not merely be a walk in the park for the home squad.

USF faced five ranked opponents in the regular season, defeating two of them, and are no stranger to adversity. Adding on to that, the Bulls have played an NCAA Tournament match already, ensuring the squad is familiar with what is at stake and playing to the occasion.

That said, Kentucky’s squad has made it clear that it knows what is at stake and that the team refuses to be satisfied with the conference title. Whether or not Kentucky can bring home the national championship for the first time in program history is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain: the final leg of the journey begins this Sunday in Lexington.

The matchup between the Bulls and Wildcats is set to kickoff at 6 p.m. EST on Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.