[TOP 5 PREVIEW] Louisville was unbeaten for 24 games before losing to Akron in the 2010 Men's College Cup final. With just about everyone back, the Cardinals begin the 2011 season as the No. 1 team in the Soccer America Preseason Top 25. Not that rankings are the focus of Coach Ken Lolla.
“We have nothing to do with the rankings,” he says.
Lolla says the only rankings that matter are those that will come out after Dec. 11 -- date of the 2011 Men's College Cup final, which will be played in Hoover, Ala. -- but Cardinals' No. 1 ranking will be quickly put to a test.
They open Saturday against No. 2 UCLA in a rematch of their 2010 NCAA Tournament quarterfinal game they won 5-4 in the snow before a state-record crowd of 5,467 fans at Cardinal Park and then play No. 3 North Carolina eight days later in a rematch of their NCAA Tournament semifinal game.
“The only thing we can worry about is ourselves and making sure we are ready,” Lolla said. “What happened last year is that we gained more experience, much more experience for this group. Our expectations haven’t changed from the first day we got here."
Lolla came from Akron in 2006 and has put Louisville -- a program with only seven winning seasons in 27 years before he came -- on the soccer map.
Everything came together in 2010 when Louisville set new school records in goals, assists, points, wins, and winning percentage and became the first school to go unbeaten and untied in Big East play since St. John's went 8-0-0 in 1991.
Among nine starters back are forward Colin Rolfe and defender Austin Berry, who were both All-Americans in 2010, and Andre Boudreaux, a three-year starter in goal, but the Cardinals' strength is in midfield, where Nick DeLeon, Paolo DelPiccolo, Dylan Mares, Ryan Smith and Kenney Walker are all back.
Perhaps the biggest loss was supersub Aaron Horton, who had the winning goals in both the NCAA Tournament quarterfinal and semifinal wins over UCLA and North Carolina, respectively, but chose to sign an MLS homegrown contract with the Columbus Crew.
Like many other programs, Louisville has loaded up on transfers. Greg Cochrane and Patrick Huang follow graduated Charlie Campbell, a big contributor in 2010, from Virginia Tech.
Also signed were Kegan Harkenrider (Denver), Brazilian Richard Osterloh (Division II Mars Hill) and Michael Roman (UCLA).
Aug. 27 vs. UCLA, 7 p.m. ET
Sept. 2 at Wake Forest, 8 p.m. ET
Sept. 4 at North Carolina, 7 p.m. ET
Sept. 9 vs. IUPUI, 5 p.m. ET
Sept. 11 vs. Central Arkansas, 1 p.m. ET
Sept. 17 vs. Butler, 7 p.m. ET
Sept. 21 at Ohio State, 7 p.m. ET
Sept. 24 at Notre Dame *, 7 p.m. ET
Oct. 1 vs. Connecticut, 7 p.m. ET
Oct. 5 at Indiana, 7:30 p.m. ET
Oct. 8 vs. Syracuse, 7 p.m. ET
Oct. 12 vs. Cincinnati *, 7 p.m. ET
Oct. 15 at St. John's *, 7:30 p.m. ET
Oct. 18 vs. USF *, 7 p.m. ET
Oct. 22 vs. Rutgers, 7 p.m. ET
Oct. 26 at DePaul *, 1 p.m. ET
Oct. 29 at Villanova *, 1 p.m. ET
Big East Tournament
Nov. 2 First Round, TBA
Nov. 5 Quarterfinals, TBA
Nov. 11-13 Semifinals-Final at Red Bull Arena