October 17, 2009 may not be a memorable day for many. A quick Google search reveals that one of the top headlines that day involved the saga and hoax of the ‘Balloon Boy.’ Prior to Sunday, it was also the last time the University of Louisville Men’s Soccer program lost a regular season game, dropping an overtime decision to St. John’s. Nearly two years later, the Cards finally fell to a regular season foe, losing 2-1 to the University of North Carolina Sunday night in Chapel Hill.
It was not only Louisville’s first loss of the season, but also the first goals allowed since last winter’s NCAA College Cup Final. Louisville went up 1-0 in front of a hostile home crowd, but North Carolina roared back, equalizing before halftime. The two teams played evenly through the opening minutes of the second half, but the Tarheels would score the go-ahead goal from short range 15 minutes before the final whistle. Game over; Cards fell 2-1.
Soccer is a game of chances and the ability to convert opportunities. Louisville had plenty of opportunities Sunday against North Carolina. Instead, the Tarheels took advantage of their chances, while the Cards let the momentum shift. North Carolina exacted a bit of revenge against the team that beat them in the NCAA Final Four last season, handing the nation’s top-ranked team its first loss of the season.
A myriad of emotions swept through the Louisville locker room after the game. Some were angry, while the veterans understood what needed to happen next. Coach Ken Lolla, ever the teacher, knew he had a great chance to nurture his team. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us,” he said after the game. “We set up this schedule this season for this very reason. We wanted early season tests,” the coach stated.
Now Lolla and his staff have an opportunity to teach the team how to respond after a loss. As crazy as that sounds, it’s not something these players have experienced often. The players from last season haven’t lost since the NCAA College Cup National Championship. There was no game to be played after that, however.
Now Louisville returns home to face IUPUI Friday night at Cardinal Park, with much of the season still looming, likely sans number one national ranking. Only time will tell, however, if the Cards can eclipse the prior winning streak.