A year removed from an Elite Eight appearance for Ken Lolla’s team, the boys in red are back and ready to make another tournament run. There has been much turnover in the squad since then, but all signs point to another successful campaign.
No team can be expected to retain the entirety of its talent, Louisville is no exception. The Cards fell victim to several graduations, including key players Daniel Johnson, Steffan Cleveland and Romilio Hernandez. Midfielders Ricky Oliveros and Max Stiegwart also left the program, electing to transfer and join the University of Central Florida Knights.
Daniel Johnson (MF/Chicago Fire/MLS) Arguably the best player on last year’s squad, DJ exhausted his collegiate eligibility in 2016 and entered the MLS SuperDraft following the season. The former West Ham United academy product from Georgia was the top choice of the Chicago Fire and has made several appearances for the Major League Soccer franchise.
Stefan Cleveland (GK/Chicago Fire/MLS) Stef Cleveland made his name at Dartmouth and solidified himself as a top professional prospect with Louisville as a graduate transfer in 2016. He tallied 10 shutouts overall while playing every minute of the 2016 season between the sticks for the Cards. He also entered the MLS SuperDraft and was selected by the Chicago Fire of MLS, joining Daniel Johnson in the Windy City.
Romilio Hernandez (MF/Phoenix Rising FC/USL) Romi started every match last campaign and left Louisville as one of the most underappreciated of Ken Lolla’s players in recent memory. Never one to stuff the stat sheet, he tallied a single assist last season in a 2-0 at UConn, but he was far from replaceable. A cog in the midfield, Hernandez was a key to dominating possession, distributing the ball all over the pitch.
While much talent was lost following the campaign, Coach Ken Lolla reloaded as usual, adding 11 freshman players and three transfers from elsewhere around the nation.
Walker Andriot (MF/Sr/Xavier) A native of Shelbyville, the former Collins High School standout played his first three years at perineal powerhouse Xavier in Cincinnati. In his Xavier career, he appeared in 59 matches and started 50.
Adam Wilson (MF/Jr/Cincinnati) A former youth academy standout of Rangers in Scotland, Adam Wilson played his first two seasons at Cincinnati after leaving Glasgow. He played in 36 matches and started 31 for the Bearcats.
Elijah Amo (MF/Fr) Elijah Amo joins Ken Lolla’s squad a touted prep talent who played in the US Soccer Development Academy and has been called up to the United States Youth National Teams at various levels. The Maryland native looks to have a plethora of opportunities to see the pitch as a freshman, and he is another pacey, technically talented winger, much like the player he is tasked with replacing: Daniel Johnson.
Tim Kubel (FB/Sr) Second team All-American in 2016 and a semifinalist for the Mac Hermann Trophy, Tim Kubel will be a key to success once again. As a wide defender with a license to get forward, he often is a factor in building possession from the back. The German fullback looks to improve on an already astounding tally of assists from 2016 and lead the Cardinals to another deep tournament run.
Danny Reynolds (MF/Jr) The English midfielder formerly of the Reading youth academy tallied several key assists and a goal over the course of 2016. Although he only scored once, it was the best goal scored by the entire team last season. He buried a 40 yard free kick to beat Quinnipiac on a shot that accrued national notoriety, including being featured in ESPN’s top plays. He started 12 matches while appearing in 16 amidst concerns of his physical health, missing time due to a hamstring injury in 2016. However, he now is good health and in terrific form closing the PDL summer season, in which he starred for Chattanooga FC
Mohamed Thiaw (ST/Sr) Tallying 12 goals in 22 matches, all of which he started, the Lexington native was named All-ACC First Team in his first season with Louisville. Mo was a force to be reckoned with atop the Cardinals’ formation and is poised to improve on the rock-solid platform he has already laid in 2016.
So Jason, what does it mean for this season? It is undeniably difficult to repeat the level of success that Ken Lolla’s team had in 2016, and it will not be a shock if they do regress. Don’t expect another Elite Eight appearance. That is not to say they will not be a very good team- I for one think they will, and very well could go that far in the tournament or even further. I think they will have the talent and plenty of opportunities to do so, but when adding 14 new players to a squad, the learning curve can be fairly steep, and they might just run out of matches to find their peak form. Look for another competitive season in the grueling Atlantic Coast Conference and another tournament berth in 2017. Their floor for this season is low relative to recent success, but their ceiling is higher than just about any of the teams previous; a true boom or bust for the ULMST.