Elite Eight repeat for Cards

So one year almost to the day, it’s the same scenario for University of Louisville’s men’s soccer team.

A NCAA quarterfinal home tie against UCLA at Cardinal Park (Saturday 7 p.m.), and a place at the College Cup just one tantalizing game away.

There won’t be too many complaints from Louisville fans if there’s a repeat of last year’s result also. The 5-4 thriller in the snow will go down as one of the most exciting soccer matchups ever held in the area at any level.

Louisville celebrates last year's thrilling 5-4 victory over UCLA in the NCAA quarterfinals at a snowy Cardinal Park. Can the Cards repeat with another win against the Bruins this Saturday?

However, the Cards have had a slightly different journey this time round to reach the top of the same stairway.

Last year, Louisville went into the Elite Eight game with an unbeaten 18-0-3 record and a No. 1 seeding. The Big East Tournament champions were pretty much expected to be still hanging around in the latter stages and duly obliged with a couple of home victories against Charleston and Ohio State.

This fall has not been such a smooth ride, and the Cards — ranked No. 1 preseason – go into Saturday’s game at 14-6-2 carrying beside their name the number 12.

That, however, should not have fooled anyone at the start of the tournament. The six losses this season have been against top opposition and have made the team even more battle hardened than last year.

To prove the point, Louisville came from a goal behind against Bradley last week to score twice in a 42 second span, only to concede a last minute equalizer.

Without feeling too sorry for themselves, the Cards found the golden goal it needed in overtime with the teams just 2:18 away from penalty kicks.

On Sunday, Louisville took the lead twice against No. 5 Maryland, with goals from Nick DeLeon and Colin Rolfe, only to be hauled back to 2-2. It’s hard enough to score just once away from home against one of the best teams in the nation, without doing it a second time, so the Terrapins’ double comeback seemed ominous for the Cards.

Not so. Ken Lolla’s charges proceeded to notch up a third through Daniel Keller with 11 minutes remaining before Michael Roman put the game beyond Maryland’s reach with a fourth in the 84th minute.

Now, Louisville finds itself facing a team it overcame last year, when it set up a final four game against North Carolina.

A win on Saturday, and a trip to Alabama for the College Cup, could see the same opponents standing in the way of another championship appearance, as the victor will face No. 1 Tar Heels (conquerors of Indiana on Sunday) or unranked surprise packet St Mary’s.

One step at a time though. Despite Louisville having already beaten UCLA 2-0 at the start of the season (when the teams were No. 1 and No. 2 respectively), Bruins coach Jorge Salcedo feels they are now a much better team that is equipped to go on the road.

They are talented all over the field but Chandler Hoffman, with 18 goals to date this year, is the target man to keep a close eye on.

Last year, 5, 467 officially attended the game (not including those watching from the berm), and the Cards will be hoping to beat that this time round with the help of a little less snow and warmer temperatures than 33 degrees.

Tickets can be purchased at the U of L athletics ticket office or by calling 502-852-5151. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for youths, students and senior citizens.

NCAA quarterfinals: Louisville (12) v. UCLA (13); North Carolina (1) v St Mary’s; Connecticut (3) v. Charlotte; Creighton (2) v. South Florida (7).

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