By Matt Bradshaw —
Back-to-back NCAA Championship quarterfinal appearances. Preseason ranked No. 6 in the nation. Is it safe to say that men’s soccer is a Louisville athletics powerhouse?
“In the world in which we live, we’re at the University of Louisville in the ACC,” head coach Ken Lolla said. “For a program like ours, with the resources we have, every year we should be competing for ACC and National Championships.”
Entering 2018 as a fifth-year member of the rigorous ACC, the Cardinals look to own the pitch with a squad of veterans and newcomers. Let’s break the team down and find out what to expect this upcoming season.
Goalkeeping and defending
Sophomore Jake Gelnovatch (goalkeeper), junior Cody Cochran, junior Lamine Conte, sophomore Ziyad Fekri and sophomore Connor Brazil.
With the loss of two seniors, including captain and First-Team All-American Tim Kubel, the Cardinal backline looks a lot different than last season.
Cochran and Fekri return to the team with postseason experience, which should prove vital to keeping the defense organized throughout a difficult schedule.
Native to Guinea, Conte played the first two seasons of his collegiate career at the University of Mobile. Steady in the back and quick with the ball, the center back contributed to seven shutouts for the Rams and will prove a valuable addition to the Cardinals.
Similar to 2017, Gelnovatch will vie with fellow sophomore Will Meyer for time between the pipes. The goalies played an equal amount of games last season, with Gelnovatch beating out Meyer in terms of minutes played.
“They’re both capable, and we’ll be prepared to use either one of them throughout the season,” Lolla said. “They’re both very good keepers and deserving of time.”
Senior Tate Schmitt, senior Adam Wilson, senior Geoffrey Dee, junior Cherif Dieye, sophomore Liam Bennet and sophomore Izaiah Jennings.
As a junior midfielder last season, Schmitt led the team with nine goals and earned All-ACC honors. The Arizona native began his time at Louisville as a forward before transitioning to midfield for the past few seasons. No matter his position, Schmitt’s ability to score in big games is apparent.
Schmitt, Wilson and Dee create the core of the midfield as the squad’s only seniors. Wilson netted one goal and had six assists last season. Dee missed playing any games in 2017 due to injury, but the midfielder had a solid 2016 with two goals and four assists.
Dieye, an upperclassmen who played in every game last season, brings goal-scoring ability and craftiness to the midfield. Rising sophomore Bennet looks to build upon his success as a freshman, when he also played all matches and netted a goal.
Junior Kino Ryosuke.
Ryosuke is a transfer from Marshalltown Community College where he recorded a school record 41 goals over two seasons for the Tigers. Fifteen of those goals were game-winners.
Hailing from Hyogo, Japan, the forward earned NJCAA All-America honors and First Team All-Conference honors in 2017 after scoring 23 goals and dishing out five assists in 16 matches.
Ryosuke stands 5-foot-9, but what he lacks in height he makes up for with skill and goal-scoring ability. The junior has already proved this with one goal scored in Louisville’s 3-0 exhibition victory over Evansville.
“Kino has done well this preseason,” Lolla said. “He’s gonna be a dynamic guy for us and will be a handful for defenders.”
With the ACC, Louisville finds themselves in one of the more dominant soccer conferences in the country. Seven ACC teams are preseason ranked in the top 25, with five of those teams in the top 11.
During preseason play, No. 6 Louisville proved themselves with a 1-0 victory over No. 2 Indiana.
“They’re a good team, good program with a lot of tradition,” Lolla said. “We love to play games like that preseason because it tells you where you’re at. What the game told us is that we have a talented team, but there’s a lot of areas still to grow.”
Louisville faces a challenging slate of matches for the regular season. The home schedule includes a pair of matches against NCAA qualifiers – Duke on Sept. 9 and Clemson on Oct. 20.
Many of the toughest opponents will be faced on the road portion of the schedule, such as with NCAA Championship qualifiers Georgetown (Sept. 25), NC State (Sept. 28), Notre Dame (Oct. 6) and Wake Forest (Oct. 26). The Cardinals will begin the 16-match regular season with a trio of home games in August: St. Bonaventure on Aug. 24, Georgia State on Aug. 28 and Saint Louis on Aug. 31.
The Cards kick off the month of September with a pair of heavily anticipated matches: Kentucky in Lexington (Sept. 4) and Duke at home. Seven more conferences matches will follow, beginning at Boston College on Sept. 14.
Louisville returns to Lynn Stadium for back-to-back matches against Charlotte (Sept. 18) and Pittsburgh (Sept. 21). The month ends with the road trips to Georgetown and NC State.
The final month of the regular season begins with the road match at Notre Dame before concluding the home schedule with four consecutive matches at Lynn Stadium. The Cardinals host Georgia Southern (Oct. 9), Syracuse (Oct. 12) and Lipscomb (Oct. 16) before the match with Clemson caps the home slate. Louisville ends the regular season with a trip to Wake Forest.
You can follow Matt Bradshaw on Twitter @bradmatt8.
Photos by Matt Bradshaw / The Louisville Cardinal