Farrell pick a boon to UofL Soccer recruiting

Ken Lolla’s job gets easier

By Andrew Melnykovych

Andrew Farrell’s selection as the No. 1 pick in the Major League Soccer draft Wednesday cemented the University of Louisville’s status as a new go-to program for players seeking a route through college to professional soccer.

Although the Cards’ All-American defender had been widely touted as the top pick in this year’s class, Farrell’s perceived value as a prospect was accentuated by the fact that the New England Revolution traded up to get him.

Farrell is leaving school a year early, having been signed as a Generation Adidas prospect by MLS. The fact that he is only 20, yet has three years of experience at the top level of the college game (plus playing three different defensive positions), made him especially attractive. Defensive players tend to have longer careers, his age making him a great investment.

While Farrell got the top pick on his own merits, his selection also speaks volumes about the status of Coach Ken Lolla’s program. UofL has now attained a status formerly held by Virginia under Bruce Arena and Indiana under Jerry Yeagley -– a premier college destination for players who want to play professionally.

Two former Cards – Austin Berry and Nick DeLeon – finished 1-2 for MLS Rookie of the Year last year. They were among four UofL players drafted last year. With three more this year – Paolo DelPiccolo and Greg Cochrane went in the second round – that gives Louisville nine picks in the last three drafts.

MLS teams definitely see attractive qualities in players coming out of Lolla’s program, including a diverse skill set, with many having played in multiple positions while competing in a high-paced game that pressures the ball the length of the field.

Louisville soccer wins big in ACC move

From the perspective of Louisville soccer, the move to the ACC is the best possible outcome of conference reshuffling.

The Big East and ACC have been the top two men’s soccer conferences for some time.  Look at the current NCAA bracket – three of the surviving teams (Louisville, Georgetown and UConn) are from the Big East and two (Maryland and UNC) are from the ACC. An ACC team has won nine of the last 21 national titles, and North Carolina is the defending champion this year. (The Big 12, in contrast, doesn’t have men’s soccer.)

A look at the conference RPI rankings before and after the reshuffle paints an interesting picture. The NCAA only provides rankings, rather than raw numbers, so the conference averages aren’t as accurate as they might be, but they still tell a tale.

Under the current conference alignment, the nine soccer-playing teams in the ACC (Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech do not have programs on the men’s side) average 43.7. That is slightly better than the 15-team Big East’s 46.1 – a figure skewed by DePaul and Pittsburgh, which dwell in the triple digits. Only Virginia Tech is in triple digits in the ACC, and it’s above the two lowest Big East squads. The seven teams playing soccer in the current Big Ten average 49.7.

When you start moving the pieces around, the Big Ten comes out best, since both Maryland and Rutgers are ranked above the conference average and improve it to 42.6. The ACC drops to 47.2, with the improvement from adding #1 Notre Dame, #13 Louisville and #40 Syracuse weighed down by bringing in #122 Pitt. Those departures also hurt the Big East, as it’s average RPI rank falls to 48.2, and that’s without figuring in any other teams that may or may not join the floundering league. Few of them play soccer anyway.

UofL men’s coach Ken Lolla was understandably excited at the prospect of playing in the ACC. Cards’ fans should be too, as it will bring a steady stream of top-notch teams into that new soccer stadium.

For the Cardinal women, though, the move is an enormous step up in class and probably means a few tough seasons before the benefits of ACC membership begin to pay off on the recruiting end. The UofL women, while vastly improved in recent years, have not been consistent contenders in the Big East, which is a middle-of-the-pack conference in women’s soccer.

The ACC is unquestionably the toughest women’s league in the land. Of course, it boasts the legendary UNC program that has produced US national team icons such as Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, and current stars Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath. But there’s incredible depth. Seven of the 11 ACC teams – eight if you count Notre Dame – are in the current top 25 in the RPI, and Maryland is the one at #25. So the Cards, currently #45 in the RPI, face a formidable challenge.

On the other hand, regular visits from the likes of UNC, Florida State, Virginia and Duke should build interest in Louisville women’s soccer and can only strengthen the program in the long run.

On the whole, a great day for Louisville soccer.

Soccer Cards much improved for Maryland rematch in NCAA

The University of Louisville men’s soccer team that heads to Maryland for Saturday night’s NCAA quarterfinal is a very different outfit both from the one that beat the Terps 4-2 in last year’s NCAA round of 16 and the one that lost 3-0 to the Terps in College Park to open the season.

The Cards started the 2012 campaign trying to find the right mix of players to replace five senior starters, four of whom were drafted into Major League Soccer. Two of them – defender Austin Berry and Nick DeLeon – would go on to finish 1-2 in the voting for MLS rookie of the year. That’s a serious loss of talent.

While the Cards had a solid core of returning players – notably defenders Brock Granger, Greg Cochrane and Andrew Ferrell and midfielder Paaolo DelPiccolo – Coach Ken Lolla faced the task of integrating several transfers into the lineup and determining which of the incoming freshmen could contribute immediately and who should redshirt. Also a question mark was midfielder Dylan Mares and the extent of his recovery from a serious injury that caused him to miss all of the 2011 campaign.

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Wild finish gets soccer Cards to 3rd straight Elite Eight

The one-day down cycle for University of Louisville sports has been reversed..

Of all the wild finishes for UofL over the weekend, the wildest of all may have been the last one, as the men’s soccer Cards faced off Sunday against Northwestern at Cardinal Park in the NCAA round of 16.

With less than four minutes left in a game that had been knotted at one goal each for the last 80-plus minutes, UofL’s persistent offensive pressure seemed ready to pay off when sophomore Dylan Mares burst into the right side of the penalty area with only the goalie between him and the net. But he pulled his shot wide of the far post, bringing a groan from the crowd.

A groan that turned into jubilation as a Northwestern defender came sliding to defend the far side of the goal, only to have the errant shot bounce off him and directly into the net. Score it an own goal and a 2-1 Louisville victory.

Louisville got off to a quick start, with early pressure paying off with a goal by freshman Marlon Hairston only four minutes in. But a defensive error about a minute later led to a corner kick and a Northwestern answer off a rebound following a splendid save by Cards goalie Mike Mauro.

That pattern held throughout the match – long stretches of UofL possession, sometimes leading to a good scoring opportunity, other times not. Northwestern had relatively few offensive opportunities, but forced Mauro into several tough saves to keep the Cards even. However, the last 10 minutes were all Louisville, and their victory – while not coming via the conventional route – was well deserved.

Now all that’s left between the Cards and a second College Cup in three years is Maryland. UofL started its season in College Park with a 3-0 defeat to the Terps. Now they need to find a way to make sure that their season doesn’t come to an end where it began.

UofL soccer aims for third straight Elite Eight

The Louisville men’s soccer team will try to book its third straight trip to the NCAA Elite Eight when it hosts Northwestern at 7 this Sunday.

It will be the first meeting between the two programs, but there will be an element of the familiar nevertheless.

Three of the Wildcats’ starting midfielders played their high school soccer in Louisville: senior Kyle Schickel at St. X, and juniors Layth Masri at Collegiate and Lepe Seetane at Trinity. That should produce a larger than usual contingent of supporters for the visitors at Cardinal Park.

The Cardinals and Northwestern also have faced a slew of common opponents. Louisville has gone 4-2-1 against common opposition, while the Wildcats are 5-1-2, having played and beaten Ohio State twice, by a combined score of 3-0. The Cards knocked off OSU 4-0 in their only meeting. UofL and NU both beat Notre Dame by a 2-1 score, and both tied Indiana. Louisville beat DePaul 3-0, while Northwestern lost 2-0. The Wildcats have beaten two teams that beat the Cards: Kentucky and, most recently, Marquette in the NCAA round of 32 last Sunday.

Overall records are similar as well: Louisville is 13-5-1, while Northwestern is 13-5-4. But the Cards have played a much tougher schedule, a fact reflected in their higher RPI- 17 vs 41 – and ranking in the final coaches’ poll, where they were 17th position and Northwestern was in 10th among the unranked teams receiving votes. And Louisville is hosting this game by virtue of being the 10th seed, while Northwestern is unseeded.

Louisville appears to be much the more potent offensive outfit, scoring at a 1.89 goals/game clip, while the Wildcats tally  1.23 goal per contest. The Cards put more of their shots on goal and put a higher percentage of those into the back of the net. Defensively, the two teams are more equal, with the Cards giving up .95 goals per contest, to .82 for Northwestern.

The Cards should have a load of momentum coming into the match, having blown out Winthrop 5-0 last Sunday while dominating in every phase of the game. Northwestern ground out a 1-0 win at #7 seed Marquette, a victory most notable for the defensive effort.

Two other factors also may work in the Cards’ favor. They have far more experience in this kind of a pressure-packed game, having made deep runs in the NCAAs in the past two years. Northwestern was 0-1 in the Big Dance over the past two seasons.

And Louisville should benefit from a vocal home crowd. How loud it will be is a bit of a question mark. Fewer than 1,500 turned out for the Winthrop match on a perfect night. That is well below par for NCAA contests in previous years in far worse weather. The Cards need a crowd more akin to the 5,000-plus that attended each of the three home games on the road to the College Cup two years ago.

A chilly night is forecast for Sunday, but a packed house will feel a lot warmer.