Louisville Cardinal MatchDay!
By Nathan L. Redd
The wait is over, as the top-ranked Louisville Cardinals officially open the season tonight at Cardinal Park. Rather than ease into the 2011 campaign, they’ll face the biggest test possible in the opener, as #2 UCLA come to town hoping to dethrone the Cards. Kickoff from Cardinal Park is set for 7 PM EST.
Coming off the program’s first-ever appearance in the national title game, Louisville coach Ken Lolla feels his squad is ready for the next step. They’ll face a familiar foe Saturday night in UCLA. The Cards earned their first trip to the NCAA College Cup last fall in a thrilling come-from-behind win over the Bruins on a snow-covered pitch at Cardinal Park in the Elite Eight. Saturday’s match begins a string of three consecutive tests against nationally ranked opponents for Louisville. Lolla has made it clear, however, that his team doesn’t focus on rankings.
“It’s not important to us,” the Cards’ boss said this week. “The only ranking that matters to us is the one at the end of the season. We return a lot of talent, as does UCLA, and we have an early schedule that is really going to test us. We’ve made it clear to our guys that the only ranking that matters is the last one in December,” Lolla stated.
The Cards return All-Americans Colin Rolfe and Austin Berry, as well as veteran goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux. Lolla said this week leading up to the match that it’s important to see his upperclassmen mentoring his wealth of young talent.
“The older guys have been here before, and they can handle the expectations. It has been great to see how they conduct their business, and we’ve already seen them lead the younger guys in a lot of ways,” said Lolla.
While the focus will be on Louisville tonight, the Bruins have revenge on their minds. UCLA led Louisville on this same Cardinal Park pitch last fall before the Cards battled back to pull out a 5-4 win in the snow. The Bruins return all eleven starters, including last year’s conference goal king in Victor Chavez. UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo has a stockpile of talent at his disposal, and his squad was picked to win the Pac-12 this season.
Last year’s conference Freshman of the Year Kelyn Rowe was named a third-team All-American by the NSCAA, and he bolsters a loaded midfield for the Bruins. In additions to his ten assists, Rowe was second on the team with seven goals last season, making him a major offensive threat along with Chavez. UCLA also landed seven players on Top Drawer Soccer’s “100 Players to Watch” in 2011.
Salcedo and his squad are looking to avenge last year’s loss against Louisville, and a premiere billing of the nation’s top two teams promises more fireworks tonight. “One of the wildest matches I have ever been a part of,” the UCLA coach said of last season’s thriller. Fans can only hope a fitting sequel is in store tonight.
Kickoff between Louisville and UCLA is set for 7 PM EST at Cardinal Park. Fans are encouraged to wear white as part of a ‘White-Out’ promotion. The first 1,000 fans will receive schedule key tags and Louisville Soccer posters. Fans outside of Louisville can also stream the match live at http://www.uoflsports.com.