LEXINGTON, Ky. – Seventh-ranked Kentucky remained unbeaten through seven matches with a 1-0 win over Charlotte at The Bell on Friday on the back of freshman Jason Reyes’ first career goal.
The Costa Rican forward scored in the 77th minute as The Wildcats took three crucial points in their Conference USA home opener.
The Wildcats have a 100-percent record through two matches in the league play, and with an overall won-lost-drawn record of 6-0-1 (2-0-0 C-USA) are off to the best start in varsity program history.
Kentucky took his chance 13 minutes before the final whistle with in-form man of the moment JJ Williams getting in behind the Charlotte defense to make the difference.
Williams won a duel along the right sideline being allowed advantage after being brought down. He got up first and dribbled to the Charlotte bi-line drawing three defenders and cutting back a pinpoint pass to an awaiting Reyes. From 11 yards out to the right, Reyes finished for the first time in Kentucky Blue and White.
“We practiced just kicking the ball to JJ (Williams),” Reyes said. “He’s just big so I knew he was going to win the run and I trust him every time. I’m really grateful with him because he assisted me and that was my first goal, and I really needed it. It was a great job from the boys, and I’m really proud of being here.”
With a steady rain falling over the last 20 minutes, the Wildcats had even more chances after going ahead as Charlotte chased an equalizer. Even as the visitors tried to string the game out, changing tactics a bit in throwing more numbers forward, UK’s defense remained resolute in closing out a sixth clean sheet from seven matches this year.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in,” co-captain Tanner Hummel said. “This is my fourth year, so I’m a senior, so I know exactly how they’d play. We all knew coming into this game what we were going to be up against, but we did it together, and it ended up being a 1-0 win for us.”
Both teams had their chances through the match with UK out-shooting Charlotte 12-5. Kentucky maintained a better share of possession as the visitors seemed content to absorb pressure while looking dangerous playing directly when they did force Kentucky to turn the ball over. Niners’ goalkeeper Elliot Panicco had to make seven saves compared to UK keeper Enrique Facusse’s one.
The reigning C-USA Golden Glove Award Winner kept a second clean sheet from as many starts so far in league play.
Kentucky has allowed just two goals this year – both in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win at Lipscomb. With that, Facusse has an impressive 0.21 goals-against average.
The sophomore has kept clean sheets in more than half – 13 – of the 25 matches he’s started over the past two years.
The 49ers dropped to 3-2-1 (0-2-0 C-USA) this season, and 1-2-1 away from home.
“Proud of the guys today,” Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren said. “I thought they did a really good job. I think also you can’t forget about the staff I have here, (Director of Operations) Marcus (Aldaba), (Assistant Coach) Josh (Oldroyd) and (Associate Head Coach) Chase (Wileman). I think they did a job getting us prepared.
“Watched tons of tape on our opponents, and I think again they had the scout spot on. I think this is the best we’ve done in regards to executing from the scout. We had a game plan, we stuck to it, we knew it was going to be a really tough game. Charlotte is a good team. They force you into making some mistakes sometimes, and you really have to make sure you stay switched on. So I’m happy for the guys, happy to get another win, happy to get another clean sheet and happy for Jason to finally get on the score sheet. He’s been dying to get on there. I think we’re a very close group right now.”
Charlotte leads the all-time series 4-3-1.
Kentucky is unbeaten over the past four years against Charlotte after failing to take any points through the first four meetings in the now-eight-game-old series.
They drew 1-1 last year in Charlotte after UK won the two years prior.
The next one
Kentucky will welcome former UK Assistant Coach David Casper’s – who spent the past six years on Cedergren’s staff at UK – East Tennessee State University to The Bell on Wednesday.
The Wildcats will return to C-USA play next Saturday for what’s ironically colloquially knows as the “Southeastern Conference Men’s Soccer Championship” against South Carolina.
UK and USC are the only two SEC schools that sponsor varsity men’s soccer so they both compete in C-USA as “affiliate members.”
For the latest on the Kentucky men’s soccer team, follow @UKMensSoccer on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as on the web at UKathletics.com.