LEXINGTON – The stereotype of University of Kentucky athletics is that men’s basketball is all that matters.
But you can place the Wildcats’ new men’s soccer coach, Johan Cedergren, at least near the top of the list of those who would beg to differ.
“I say this all the time, but you can see the level of interest just around town, with people recognizing you,” said Cedergren, who was named to his post here early this past winter. “This isn’t the highest profile sport in the world, but around here, all the sports at Kentucky matter. I was told that when I was hired, but you just are surprised because people bleed blue around here.”
Cedergren comes to UK from Dartmouth, where he was associate head coach and guided the Big Green to five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances despite the obstacle of playing in the academic-restricted Ivy League without athletic scholarships.
Cedergren sees great potential to make UK men’s soccer a more consistent player on the national scene.
“I took this job because I believe the sky is the limit,” said Cedergren, who starred as a collegian at the University of Cincinnati. “You want to work somewhere where it matters, and there are some places where, as long as you stay out of trouble, that’s all that matters. But we know how Mitch (Barnhart, UK athletics director) is, and he wants them all to win, and I wanted to go somewhere where it mattered. Where you get all the resources that you need to win, and when you call a kid and say we think you could be a good recruit for us, they won’t slam the phone down on you.”
It appears that Cedergren has plenty of parts, so to speak, to make his first Kentucky team successful, but the operative word there may be parts. There are 11 letter winners and 12 guys overall returning from a team last year that went 9-9-2 and beat three teams ranked in the nation’s top 15, including seniors Matt Lodge and Charley Pettys and junior Tyler Riggs.
Riggs led the Wildcats in scoring last season with 11 goals and five assists. Lodge added seven goals and 10 assists and Pettys had three and seven assists.
Defender Dylan Asher, a junior, is preseason All Conference USA, while senior Cameron Wilder stabilizes the midfield.
But the fate of the Wildcats short term may be how well Cedergren and his staff blend in the 13 newcomers with the veterans.
“I think we have a good feel for the 12 coming back, but for the 13 coming in, we have only worked with team for a week or so,” said Cedergren, whose team opens the season at Dayton on Aug. 26 and doesn’t have a home match until Sept. 7 (vs. St. Joes). “Of course, we saw them all before they got here. A couple of them are really high profile. A couple of them were on the U20 Canadian National team, another on the U17 U.S. National team, and a couple players from Norway, where they play at a very high level.
“I believe all 13 have a chance to contribute right away.”
“It’s gone great,” said Wilder of mixing in with the newcomers, all with a new coach. “The chemistry has been unbelievable so far in the preseason and it should be better once the season gets going.”
Last year’s UK team was an offensive minded team. But Cedergren is a defensive-minded coach. So...
“We allowed 33 goals last year, and that is just not going to get us where we want to go,” Cedergren says. “So we’re working a lot on basic defending. We are really trying to focus on the 18 games and allowing 18 goals or less. That is our goal, and that has been communicated to the guys.”
The UK men play in Conference USA in soccer since most of the Southeastern Conference schools do not offer men’s soccer.
Asked if he hopes to see an SEC men’s soccer league down the road, Cedergren replied: “You know, you would love to see that, but that’s above my pay grade.”
Here’s a look at UK’s men’s soccer home schedule:
Sept. 7, St. Joes, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9, Charlotte, 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 19, East Tennessee State, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30, Memphis, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 3, Indiana, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21, Florida International, 5 p.m.
Oct. 31, Central Florida, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4, South Carolina, 1 p.m.