Poor Ken Lolla can’t seem to catch a break this season.
The University of Louisville soccer coach is still trying to get over the embarrassment of dropping a 1-0 decision to Kentucky last week. He is still without the services of Dylan Mares, his leading scorer dealing with a knee injury. And his team is unranked for the first time in three seasons.
Now his team has to face an undefeated fourth-ranked Notre Dame with a 7-0 record Saturday at 7 p.m., a game that directly conflicts with the streaming of the UofL-Florida International football game in Miami.
- Against Kentucky, the Cards seemed out of synch in the absence of Mares and his multiple abilities: holding the ball in the attacking third, distributing it to create chance, finishing scoring opportunities. Their performance in the final third was tentative and lacked a killer instinct. Although Mares was missing again against the Buckeyes, that weakness was corrected. The Cards seemed much more willing to snap off shots or send balls into the box to create opportunities.
- The injury bug has hit. Mares, a redshirt sophomore who missed all of last year with a knee injury, appeared to tweak his leg again early in the Sept. 11 two-OT win over Wake Forest. He returned later and seemed OK, but now has missed two starts. That is worrisome. He was joined on bench Tuesday by starting defender Isaiah Trejo, who apparently was still suffering the effects of a vicious shot to the ankle that he took in the UK game. Also missing Tuesday was flank midfielder Ade Akinsanya, though the reason for his absence was unclear.
- After the UK disappointment, U of L Coach Ken Lolla saw a need to shake things up. In addition to several new starters (beyond those caused by injuries), he moved players around. Freshman speedster Marlon Hairston, who had been playing up front, dropped back and took on more of a playmaking role, although he did get forward often enough to score the first Louisville goal. Defender Greg Cochran moved into a wing midfield slot, where he could put his speed and crossing ability to more frequent use. He got the final goal. At one point, forward Ryan Smith found himself playing in the back line. All that shifting around certainly worked as intended.
- Goalkeeping matters – a lot. The loss to UK was due in large measure to a terrific performance by Wildcat goalie Jack Van Arsdale, whose six saves included several of the spectacular variety. Perhaps the most impactful change made by Lolla was to replace Joachim Ball – who had played every minute of the season thus far – with Mike Mauro in goal. While Mauro was called on to make only one routine save, he was challenged by an Ohio State team that tried to capitalize on its height advantage by floating balls into the box. Mauro took charge of his area, shutting off the Ohio State attack by coming out decisively to make sure-handed grabs. He seemed to communicate well with his defenders and didn’t get caught out of position. In all respects, an upgrade at the back for Louisville and another good move by Lolla.
A win over Notre Dame would be huge, putting Louisville back into the discussion about the top teams in the nation. A loss, while not dashing hopes for a tournament run, will assure continued obscurity.