No. 1 Kentucky’s second round win over USF validates title-contender status


Jackson Dunavant

Kentucky players celebrate after scoring a goal during the No. 1 Kentucky vs. South Florida mens soccer match in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-0. Photo by Jackson Dunavant | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 1 Kentucky mens soccer defeated South Florida 4-0 in Lexington in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

The win further justified everything that earned the Wildcats their No. 1 seed in the first place and served as validation for UK’s chances as a legitimate national championship contender.

The Wildcats scored four goals en route to victory, with each goal being scored by a different scorer.

The first goal was scored by sophomore midfielder Martin Soereide, his second of the season, the second was put into the net by Casper Grening, his 10th of the season, the third was netted by fifth-year Clay Holstad, his first of the season, and finally the last goal was scored by freshman Max Miller, his second of the season.

The variety and number of goals are sure to bring a lot of confidence to an already confident UK squad, being key in showing why Kentucky has been so successful this season.

First, Grening’s 10th goal ties him with Eythor Bjorgolfsson, who was unable to play due to a red card he earned in the Sun Belt Championship Match and makes the sophomore the second Wildcat this season to earn a double-digit goal total.

Compare that to last season when the Cats were unable to find even a single striker with 10 goals and it paints a very clear picture of a squad that has little issue finding the net. This is further confirmed by UK’s now 52 goals scored this season, close to double the amount of USF, who ended its season with 28. 

“We’re very fortunate with depth,” Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren said. “I think we have two good players per position. I think that he (Grening) had about 10 chances that he could’ve put away and the 10th one he did. What I really love about his mentality is that he didn’t stop, and we didn’t stop giving him good opportunities, but I think if that’s a normal day he probably scores three or four. I’m very happy for him and incredibly proud.”

Beyond that, Holstad scoring his first goal of the season brought UK’s total up to 14 goal scorers this season, leaving the opposing defenses constantly on their toes as goals can come from anywhere on the pitch.

Continuing to analyze the goals and why they’re so significant, fifth-year Nick Gutmann, who has also scored five himself this season, recorded his 17th and 18th assists, playing a role in both Holstad and Miller’s goals, continuing to prove why he’s the nation’s assist leader.

“It’s great (having guys like Nick),” Holstad said. “We know that they’re gonna create chances for us, create opportunities and be dynamic. It’s nice knowing that we can count on them to do their jobs and that we don’t have to worry about trying to overcompensate or anything. As long as we do our job, we know that we have it covered.”

The 4-0 score line was also recorded without Bjorgolfsson, as previously mentioned, who’s leaping ability provides a clear advantage over the top and on corner kicks.

With the Norwegian striker unable to play, the Wildcats were forced to find other means of scoring, no longer having the advantage over the top, something they clearly had little issue with.

The shutout victory also marked the 11th clean sheet of the season for UK’s backline and freshman goalkeeper Casper Mols, another impressive feat considering the uncertainty entering the season after UK lost veteran keeper Jon Hoffelner, who ranked consistently toward the top of the country in goalkeeping metrics last season.

“I think as old schoolers (clean sheets) are something that we’ve worked on for a long time,” Cedergren said about himself and Holstad. “I think that whenever you can get a 4-0 score line then you’ve done (well) on both ends of the field. Anytime you keep a clean sheet you always have a chance and you’re always in it. The distance (our defenders) cover is phenomenal and we’re so proud.”

UK’s backline has been consistently reliable this season with Cedergren only citing two times in which he felt like the team “leaked goals.”

Mols was only forced to make three saves against the Bulls, meaning only half of USF’s six shot attempts were on target, and that doesn’t even factor the attempts that were snuffed out and did not get recorded as shot attempts.

USF was no slouch entering the game either, having recorded wins over two ranked opponents in No. 15 Tulsa, who the Wildcats reached a draw with, and then No. 22 Charlotte.

All in all, to have such an impressive showing in the NCAA Tournament, especially in the second round, proves why Kentucky is deserving of the No. 1 seed, arguably even more so than No. 2 Washington being stunned by Creighton.

Kentucky will look to continue to prove as much on Sunday, Nov. 27, against Pittsburgh, who upset No. 16 Akron in the second round. Kickoff between the Wildcats and Panthers is scheduled for 6 p.m. EST at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.