Late wonder goal stuns Cats, ends Kentucky’s undefeated season


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats midfielder Brennan Creek (19) processes the loss after the No. 1 Kentucky vs. Pitt soccer match in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 2-1. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Luke Fetzer, Reporter

Kentucky mens soccer (15-1-5) was defeated by Pittsburgh (11-4-5) 2-1 on Sunday, ending the Cats’ unbeaten season and championship hopes in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. 

The rain and the wind set the stage for a tightly contested showdown between the No. 1 overall seeded Kentucky Wildcats and the unseeded but hot Pittsburgh Panthers. 

From the opening kick-off, the Cats looked off their game with errand passes, sloppy losses of possession and continuous pressure from the Panthers that all served to let Kentucky know that the match wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. 

Head Coach Johan Cedergren was overall pleased with his team’s performance, but wished his players had more fight going forward. 

“We’ve got some really good chances, we just weren’t able to then deliver that final pass, or maybe take a touch and then shoot or we don’t have time to just take the first time shot instead,” Cedergren said. “I think it’s just one of those where it happens in games sometimes and again. I would be even more disappointed if we didn’t play well or if we played 10 men, or if we didn’t play up to our potential, but I felt that we played really well.” 

The first half left both teams scoreless, possibly because of the poor conditions, but midfielder Clay Holstad thought otherwise. 

“Once the rain came down it was just a slick night,” Holstad said. “I really think it wasn’t that bad. I think at first it was kind of dry and we had to get used to over the top balls skipping through and overplaying passes, but honestly, especially this time of year wasn’t too bad.”

In terms of shots, both teams had their chances with the Cats ending the first half with five shots and the Panthers with four. Despite this, the Cats failed to register as many shots on target, with many of their chances missing high and wide. 

The start of the second half made up for the lack of action in the first as the Cats took the lead just five minutes after the restart courtesy of sophomore midfielder Casper Grening from an assist by assist leader Nick Gutmann, giving Grening his 11th goal of the season. The total saw Grening overtake Eythor Bjorgolfsson as UK’s leading goal scorer.

Just two minutes later the Panthers surged forward and earned themselves a corner. With the ball hanging in the air, UK goalkeeper Casper Mols came out to catch it, but the wet ball slipped out of his grasp and onto the feet of midfielder Valentin Noel, who slotted home the equalizer. 

After the equalizer, it was a battle of wits and who could convert their chances but in the 78’ catastrophe struck both sides. 

A loose ball made its way towards the middle of the pitch, with UK’s Martin Soereide looking like he would recover it first. Charging forward to challenge was Pitt midfielder Henrique Gallina who slid in and caught Soereide with his studs up. 

Getting to his feet after spending a couple minutes on the ground, Gallina was shown a straight red card, dropping the Panthers to ten men, but Kentucky and Soereide weren’t so lucky. 

Writhing in pain, the medical staff was told to bring the gurney to assist Soereide off the field and bring the Norwegian to the hospital with his lower body covered on the way out.

To the relief of the crowd, Soereide clapped and gave the thumbs up as he was stretchered away. 

“He’s in the hospital right now and we won’t know anything more until tomorrow morning,” Cedergren said. “It was a very brave tackle of Marty (Soereide) and he played great.” 

Now up a man with ten minutes remaining, the Cats had the numerical advantage and threw men forward hoping to capitalize on it. They even had a handful of chances with the clock winding down, but none were able to be converted. 

A foul in the 86’ saw the Panthers take a quick free kick over the top of the UK back line, leaving forward Josh Luchini ample time to find his teammate Bertin Jacquesson, who took on a 26-yard shot that he buried into the side netting, leaving Kentucky stunned. 

The goal left Holstad and his team disappointed, knowing that the curse of the Sweet 16 appeared to still be alive and active. 

“We’re pressing forward and we’re dying chasing the game and we let up for five seconds and it goes in so it’s not exactly the ideal way to lose,” Holstad said. 

The Cats had two great opportunities in the dying minutes, but it was the Panthers who stood strong and saw the game out, advancing to the Elite Eight for a matchup against Portland. 

“Lessons were learned, and we got this far and hope that, you know, with a quality team like Kentucky is just another lesson of what we have to do against Portland this next weekend,” Pittsburgh head coach Jay Vidovich said. 

Despite the loss, Cedergren believed that the season put Kentucky soccer in the upper echelons of collegiate soccer not just in the Bluegrass, but in the nation. 

“I feel like we’ve definitely put the program on the map, and there’s lots of successful programs and sports here at the University of Kentucky, but mens soccer is definitely one of them,” Cedergren said. “So, we’re really thankful for the big blue nation and we can’t wait to host them in August.” 

With the loss Kentucky’s 2022 campaign officially came to an end, bowing out as the No. 1 overall seed and final remaining undefeated Division-1 team.