By Andrew Melnykovych

The University of Louisville women’s soccer team lost to 19th-ranked Illinois Sunday at Cardinal Park in overtime, 2-1, and in the process showed that they still have a ways to go before joining their male counterparts in the upper echelons of the college game.

The Cards jumped out to a lead in the 23rd minute on a breakaway – about the only type of offensive strategy they showed throughout the afternoon – but the Illini dominated the rest of the contest. Both teams did a lot of kicking the ball far downfield with more hope than confidence, but the vast majority of incisive passing and sustained possession came from the visitors, lending an air of inevitability to the outcome. That it didn’t end in regulation was largely due to Louisville senior ‘keeper Chloe Kiefer, who made several outstanding saves.

The Cardinal women will have to step up their game a good bit if they are to improve on last year’s 10-9 overall record and 4-7 Big East finish. As in past seasons, they play with a great deal of grit and hustle, but the technical aspects of their game are not where they need to be.

A sound technical game is vital in the very tough Big East, which produced last year’s NCAA champion in Notre Dame.

Unfortunately for soccer fans, the Irish aren’t coming to Louisville this year, but the women will host some strong teams beyond the undefeated Illini, who made the NCAA field last year.

The best conference home matchup of the year comes on September 30 against Marquette, a regular top-25 team that made it to the NCAA round of 16 last year. The other quality teams on the home slate are NCAA qualifiers Central Michigan on September 4 (second game in the Cardinal Classic) and South Florida on October 2.

The rest of the home schedule includes the Cardinal Classic opener against Baylor on September 2, and fellow middle-of-the-pack Big East opponents DePaul (Sept. 18), Rutgers (Oct. 14) and Seton Hall (Oct. 16).

In addition to Notre Dame (Sept. 16), the very tough Big East road schedule includes NCAA team Connecticut (Sept. 23), Providence (Sept. 25), Villanova (Oct. 7), NCAA quarterfinalist Georgetown (Oct. 9) and Cincinnati (Oct. 22). (Although Georgetown is in the Big East, the game does not count in conference standings.)

Before opening Big East play the Cards will be in Lexington on September 9 and 11 to play the Wildcats and Butler.

Last year, the Cards rolled to a 7-0 start before losing to Illinois 3-0 on the road and struggling the rest of the way. So today’s result is at least an improvement. Let’s hope the UofL women can build on it.

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