--By Kevin Kernen
--Image by Jared Anderson
Despite being ranked 6th in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll and being picked to finish 3rd in the ACC, coach Ken Lolla, entering his 13th season at the helm of the Cards’ soccer program, is very bullish on the team’s chances at the sharp end of the season.
Speaking with media before the annual kickoff banquet on Friday, coach Lolla was forthcoming with how the team is shaping up:
“For us to be a team to win a national championship, we have to be a better unit, but so far I like the pieces that we have…
“Could we be better than last year? I think we could”
“For a program like ours, with the resources we have, I think every year we should be competing for an ACC and National championships, for our group and what we’ve talked about early in the season, those are absolutely on our radar”
UofL is returning after a strong season last year, advancing to the quarterfinals in the ACC tournament before clocking a run all the way to the last-8 against Lolla’s former team, Akron, falling in penalties. With games decided in penalty kicks counted as draws, UofL lost just twice last year.
Coach and players alike expressed during the banquet ceremony that their loss to Akron is still fueling them. The team last year was punctuated with some stellar individuals, and it’s going to be tricky to replace the likes of Mo Thiaw and Tim Kubel, who combined for 14 goals and 9 assists last season, but Lolla has been very savvy with signing transfers- this season is no different.
Coming into the fold are a trio of exciting transfers from the lower ranks of collegiate soccer, Lamine Conte, Louka Masset and Kino Ryosuke. Conte, a Guinean national and Philadelphia Union product, comes by way of the University of Mobile where the defender tallied 7 clean sheets en route to a NAIA second team all-american selection. Louka Masset, a Parisian, comes to Louisville by way of the University of New Hampshire. In Division II play, Masset, another Center Back, accumulated a Northeast-10 all-conference last season in his sophomore year, building on his conference all-rookie team selection in ‘16. Rounding out the transfers is Kino Ryosuke, an attacker who tallied 27 goals in 28 PDL starts in the last two seasons, one with the Des Moines Menace and the other with FC Boulder U23, culminating in winning the MVP award this season with the Menace.
Returning players include Adam Wilson, who tallied 6 assists from the midfield last year and led the team in that category over ACC play, Cherif Dieye, who should figure into a few more matches this season in an attacking role and Tate Schmitt, who led the team with 9 goals.
Also returning this year are both goalkeepers who played last season, Will Meyer and Jake Gelnovatch. Both netminders were supportive of one another, and despite only being back together for a little over a month, Jake assured me the team is coming together: “ We’ve been here since mid-July and we’ve all gotten to know each other so well. It’s a really tight group.”
Coach Lolla hasn’t made a decision on a starting Goalkeeper, in fact both players can expect to see playing time. On the whole, there is little in the way of drop-off between the perceived starting eleven and the reserves, important as collegiate scheduling usually features Tuesday and Friday matches in the same week.
As the night neared its conclusion, Lolla took the stage for some comments on the season, and he made sure to set the stage for the season. As with any other season, it will take a measure of development to achieve what’s expected of them this campaign:
“I measure my success here at the University of Louisville by growth… my growth as well as the growth of the program...With the team we are right now, there’s no chance of us to win a national championship...By December, in Santa Barbara, we will be a good unit. We will be a great unit”
Putting a stake in the ground, then. This promises to be as exciting season as ever for UofL Men’s Soccer, everyone around the program is primed and the players are hungry.
Season starts friday.
Kevin Kernen is the senior men's soccer correspondent for River City Cards. He also is the color commentator for Louisville City FC, and co-host of Soccer City Radio... MORE