LEXINGTON – In only some 12 months as the head men’s soccer coach at the University of Kentucky, Johan Cedergren has led the Wildcats to a rare NCAA Tournament appearance, boosted momentum for a new, on-campus stadium, and, best of all, changed the culture of the program.
“There’s been a huge shift in terms of the culture,” said UK senior goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale, who had a 1.1 goals against average for the 10-9-2 Wildcats last season. “There’s an excitement now, whereas in the past it was more of a grind.
“We still put in hard work with this staff, but at the same time, there is an excitement every day. It’s a privilege to come out and train. It’s not so much of a job anymore.”
Van Arsdale, from Richmond, Va., says the Wildcats are determined to take another step forward this season, despite a strengthened Conference USA and a slew of young players.
“There is an excitement about mimicking the success we had last year and going forward, but at the same time it’s a completely different transition in terms of the culture and the attitude around the locker room and the field,” He said.
“It’s more of a professional atmosphere,” senior forward Tyler Riggs said. “Coaches set the new standard high, and we want to go further and further.”
Kentucky opens regular season play Aug. 30-Sept. 1, hosting the UK Invitational. The Wildcats host Wright State Aug. 30 at 7:30 and then play Georgia State Sept. 1 at 3.
Those matches will be played in a UK stadium that’s still taking shape. Cedergren was a little vague about the target completion date in a recent media session.
“It will be ready at some point later this fall,” Cedergren said of the facility.
“We probably have the best pitch in the world,” said Riggs, from Louisville St. Xavier. “We would have loved to have it done because we are all really excited about it, but I’m sure it will get done eventually.
“The only thing that matters to us is the game and the field, and that is in perfect condition.”
The UK men are in Conference USA because the Southeastern Conference does not have enough teams that offer men’s soccer.
But Cedergren says Conference USA is one of the “top two or three conferences in the country,” particularly with New Mexico, Old Dominion, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic joining the league this year.
Seven C-USA teams made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, including Kentucky for just the fifth time in school history.
“It was a good season last year, and now it’s just a matter of what are we doing to do moving forward,” said Cedergren, who came to UK last year after five seasons as a top assistant at Dartmouth. “That’s the challenge we have in front of us.
“Are we going to able to set a precedent where we expect to make the tournament every year?”