It was mentioned more than once prior to University of Louisville’s NCAA Division 1 championship decider against Akron that a victory would provide a great opportunity to start a soccer dynasty at the college.
The truth is that the start of such a dynasty commenced before they lost 1-0 to the Zips on Sunday at Santa Barbara, Calif.
The program has grown steadily over the past few years under the stewardship of Ken Lolla, but it came to life this year thanks to an unbeaten regular season and No.1 ranking which led to numerous 5,000 plus crowds at Cardinal Park during the NCAA tournament.
Already, the area’s young talent must be dreaming of playing with Louisville, not Indiana, UCLA, Ohio State or anyone else for that matter.
And the future looks bright for the Cards. Only two of Sunday’s starters were seniors, while regular standouts such as Dylan Mares, Louisville’s Andrew Farrell, and supersub Aaron Horton are freshmen.
Akron is proof that a program can be built steadily to become a soccer powerhouse. The Zips were runners-up in 1986, grew steadily in stature under none other than Ken Lolla from 1993 to 2005, and have been mainstays come the business end of the NCAA tournament under current coach Caleb Porter.
On Sunday, they became the first team from the college to win an NCAA championship in any sport, solidifying its status as a modern soccer powerhouse to boot. Great encouragement can be garnered from that.
Louisville’s performance this year comes at a good time for local soccer. You should see a number of their players over the coming years taking the field for River City Rovers, a USL’s Premier Development League team which will play its first games next summer.
The league is seen as a shop window for Major League Soccer clubs looking to discover and identify aspiring pros.
Rovers themselves will be pleased with the Cards’ profile boost, as having recognizable names on its roster will help with attendances. So too will indoor pro outfit, Louisville Lightning.
These three teams should be responsible for more young players getting involved in the game and prolonging their involvement in it. We should also see a new facility in the not too distant future in the shape of a soccer stadium, or a much revamped one at the very least.
What is needed next is the go ahead from U.S. Soccer for a Development Academy, which would feature teams at U15/16 and U17/18 levels.
There are currently 78 top youth soccer clubs – including Indiana United from Carmel and academies from many Major League Soccer franchises – fielding teams in a league which focuses on player development rather than going after results.
For example, the ratio of practices to games is around 3:1, and the re-entry of players into games once substituted is eliminated.
A joint bid by Javanon and Mockingbird failed earlier this year, but the general feeling is it’s only a matter of time before one is introduced locally.
So will any of this help the game in southern Indiana? It can only have a positive knock on effect, as hopefully extra exposure to the game and opportunities to watch more quality live soccer encourages more to take it up.
And whether the best and improving players from New Albany, Jeffersonville, Floyd Knobs, Clarksville, Sellersburg or anywhere else head to Louisville teams or not, they will still be part of our high school teams in the fall. (As a sidenote, it remains to be seen what effect, if any, tolling the bridges would have on such traversing.)
I get the feeling that the game in greater Louisville is ready to make a major leap forward, and hopefully we can leap with it.