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Lolla’s men ready for the spotlight
By Noah Allison
Louisville’s men’s soccer heads into their new stadium and their new conference with excitement and determination. The 14th overall nationally ranked Cardinals were picked to win the Atlantic Division of the ACC by the league’s coaches.
“I think we are positioned so well to take advantage of both entering the ACC as well as starting the season in Lynn Stadium because we have one of the best teams we’ve ever had here at Louisville. We’re talented, we’re experienced, and we have an infusion of some young players that I think are going to help us this year… I think it’s a really good balance of talent, strong character and experience. So we are really excited about this season,” head coach Ken Lolla said.
Last year in the AAC, Lolla’s men went 11-5-4 and made it their seventh straight season with double-digit wins. This year they are led by three senior team captains, goalkeeper Joachim Ball, defender Daniel Keller and mid-fielder Nolan Moore.
They lead a squad where not one man is too depended upon; a balance of talent and versatility makes this one of the better Cardinal soccer teams in recent memory. With only three forwards listed on the roster the Cards boast a plethora of attackers that can come in wherever is most needed.
“We are as deep as we have ever been and we have guys that can play in a lot of different spots,” Lolla explains. “The way we play, whoever it might be as a forward, many times what you’ll find throughout the course of the game is that they are interchangeable.
“When we go through the recruiting process one of the priorities for us is that guys have that versatility. With that, especially in the game, the key is to unbalance the defense. In order to unbalance the defense you need to create more numbers. So there has to be flexibility with guys moving into different spots to create those extra numbers and unbalance the defense… We have a number of guys that I think coming out of midfield will help create opportunities and create goals for us.”
Amongst the top producers for last year’s Cardinals were first year players, sophomore transfer Ricardo Velazco and freshman Andrew Brody. Velazco ended up leading the Cards in goals-scored with seven and assists-made with nine while Brody was third on the team in goals with three and second on the team in assists with eight.
“It didn’t really matter if I was going to score goals or not but I know we had high expectations. Coming in I was a transfer but I always wanted to come here and I was always in contact with Coach Mario and Ken, so scoring goals and getting assists was not really that big. But winning games sure was a big thing for us,” Velazco said.
Returning from injury to help lead the offensive attack is former Mr. Kentucky of high school soccer, forward Will Vitalis.
His junior season Vitalis was fourth on the team in goals and first in assists with seven.
“Having Will back is tremendous, he’s gifted. Will can do things that simply other players cannot do,” Lolla exclaims. “He’s got a creativeness to him and a great feel for the game. Which at times, as a coach, can be frustrating and other times is absolute brilliance.”
“It’s going to be awesome, now our front four are incredible and the creativity going up front is crazy,” Velazco excitedly discussed. “Will is just such a complete player, so smooth with the ball, very intelligent and he just makes everybody else better, which is the best thing about him.”
On the opposite spectrum Louisville boasted one of its best statistical defenses in school history. Giving up just 15 goals on the season senior goalkeeper, Joachim Ball, had eight total shut-outs. The defensive back-line returns 66 total starts and brings in a talented freshman defender from Germany, Tim Kubel. The only loss is a big one in last year’s AAC Defensive Player of the Year, senior Jimmy Ockford. The defensive prowess didn’t leave with him though.
“I think the defense is going to be stronger this year to be honest with you,” Lolla states. “Our plan this year is to take probably, if not our best player, then one of our best players Daniel Keller and put him as a center-back. Team him with Jerry Ramirez, Michael DeGraffenreidt and possibly even Tim, who has played as a right-back at a very high level in Germany, and that makes it possibly even a stronger unit than it was last year.”
The excitement has grown as the season approaches ever closer, but now for the Cardinals, this year is not about the glitz, the glamour or the preseason hype. It’s about winning.
“We know that we have the best facility in the nation, we are so thankful to the whole Lynn family to make that happen for us and to the whole athletic department. And I know that the whole soccer program has been working really hard to put that into place and we are really thankful and humbled,” Ball said. “And at the same time it certainly will be an advantage for us, but now it’s our obligation to take care of it. And we need to get after it right now.”
The men play their season home opener against third ranked Maryland on Friday, August 29th at 8:00 p.m. in Lynn Stadium.