Three was the magic number for Kentucky on Tuesday at The Bell as the Wildcats defeated No. 7/6 Louisville 3-0 in front of 1,827 blue-clad Big Blue Nation members to start the season with a third-straight win.
Reigning Conference USA Players of the Week JJ Williams and Aimé Mabika got on the score sheet. Williams, the Offensive Player of the Week, scored a brace in the first half, and then Mabika, the Defensive Player of the Week, converted a penalty in the 73rd minute to make the score line comprehensive.
Williams gave Kentucky a dream start on four minutes, catching the Louisville goalkeeper well outside his own box, beating him and a bank of defenders in red to fire a long-range effort into an open goal and set The Bell aglow.
The junior forward doubled Kentucky’s lead with a powerful header in at the near post with less than 10 minutes to go in the second half, nodding in a pinpoint Marcel Meinzer cross after Tanner Hummel started Kentucky’s attack along the right.
Williams now has three goals from the last two matches, and three from three games overall this year.
The referee pointed to the penalty spot on 73 minutes after a U of L defender handled the ball in the box. Mabika stepped up to the spot and coolly sent the goalkeeper guessing the wrong while he fired left.
It was Mabika’s first goal of the year, and the fourth of his career. He’s made all of the three penalties he’s attempted in his career.
Tuesday’s match concluded a three-match home stand to begin the season.
“Really proud of the guys,” Kentucky Head Coach Johan Cedergren said. “I thought it was a wonderful night of soccer and again you’re really proud as a coach to be able to work here at Kentucky with all the wonderful facilities we have. I know Louisville’s a really good program. They’ve done really well and I know they’re going to bounce back.
“For us it was just good to get validation of all the things we did in preseason and to get a glimpse of how good we can be. How we can be a little more dynamic and take some chances. I’m really proud of the guys, I’m excited to be 3-0, but now if we don’t go and take care of business on Saturday (at UAB) all of this is for nothing. We have eight underclassmen starting so we’ve just got to make sure we bring them back down to earth again because we have 14 more games left to go in the regular season.”
Kentucky is 12-8-5 v Louisville in the all-time series of the teams playing as varsity teams.
Kentucky is unbeaten against Louisville over the past three seasons as the two teams had drawn 2-2 last season in Louisville, while UK won the last meeting between them at The Bell, 1-0 in 2016.
UK got back to .500 against Louisville at home, improving to 6-6-2 all-time in Lexington, and 2-1 at the current iteration of The Bell, which opened in 2014.
A large crowd was expected in spite of blistering heat that gripped the Bluegrass the day after Labor Day.
After all, the two largest crowds in the history of The Bell had descended upon the UK campus to see this fixture in its last two iterations in Lexington. The record crowd at The Bell was the 3,368 that watched Kentucky and Louisville play in 2014. In 2016, 2,863 were on hand to see the Wildcats win 1-0.
Cedergren made one change from the starting 11 from last Friday’s 1-0 win over Columbia as Louisville native Sam Stockton came in for Bailey Rouse in central midfield.
Louisville’s moved up to No. 7 in the United Soccer Coaches poll, released earlier Tuesday. The Cardinals rrived in Lexington 2-0 on the year with a 2018 squad that returend six starters from last year’s team, which finished second in its ACC Atlantic division, advanced to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Championships and ended the year ranked No. 7 in the nation.
And they were likely the fresher of the sides as Louisville’s scheduled match on Friday v St. Louis was cancelled due to weather. The Cardinals were supposed to play the second match of a double-header with the UofL women’s team playing Kentucky in the first match. Lightning strikes in the area forced the first game to be delayed several hours, prompting the second game to be abandoned.