COLUMBIA, S.C. – The No. 7/6 Kentucky Men’s Soccer Team had to come from behind for the first time this season, but Kalil ElMedkhar and Daniel Evans’ two second-half goals brought the Wildcats through that fundamental adversity with a 2-1 win at South Carolina on Saturday.
The Wildcats improved their unbeaten streak to start the season to nine games, including four-straight wins.
UK’s won-lost-record of 8-0-1 (3-0-0 Conference USA) continues to build on the best start in varsity program history. And perhaps the biggest prize of all on Saturday was that Kentucky retained control of the unofficial bragging rights as Southeastern Conference Men’s Soccer Champions for the second year in a row.
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.”
Evans scored his first career goal to break a 1-1 tie with eight minutes to play. The Wildcats were awarded a free kick five yards from the end line just beyond the edge of the 18-yard-box. Leon Jones nodded ElMedkhar’s service down in the box and Evans pounced giving The Wildcats a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“At first I couldn’t believe it,” Evans, who had played 42 minutes over two games prior to Saturday, said. “But I mean I just went to celebrate with the team and we ended up getting the win.”
South Carolina had taken a 1-0 lead 67 seconds before halftime.
Kentucky spent much of the second half on the front foot, and The Wildcats’ probing was rewarded in the form of Kalil ElMedkhar equalizer in the 67th minute.
The goal came after Marcel Meinzer’s shot from the top of the box was blocked. It fell to substitute Brock Lindow who slipped ElMedkhar in. From there the in-form winger curled a right-footed effort into the right side of the goal.
He’s scored four goals – second most on the team to JJ Williams’ seven – in his sophomore campaign, including two in the last two matches and three from the most recent four. He also has three assists, tied with Meinzer for the team lead.
The Gamecocks lone goal occurred just before the break through Bjorn Gudjonsson. He floated into a crack in the Kentucky defense to head the ball across goal redirecting a Justin Sukow cross.
“I’m incredibly happy to get a win here,” Kentucky head coach Johan Cedergren said. “This is a really tough place to go and play. I’m really happy that we came back to win for the first time this year. Also we want to be a goal-scoring team so to get two goals was nice.
“It was also nice for Danny (Evans). He got his first goal today as a freshman. There were lots of young guys on the field. It’s one of those where I have to do a better job, our captains have to do a better job and everyone has to do a better job of just making sure that we’re ready to go from the kick.”
Kentucky allowed its third goal of the season. Saturday’s concession marked the second game where UK failed to keep a clean sheet this year (seven from nine).
Sophomore Enrique Facusse tallied two saves, but his goals-against-average went up to a still impressive 0.33 on the season.
Kentucky edged ahead of South Carolina in the all-time series 8-7-3. The Wildcats are 3-4-2 when playing in Columbia. UK has won two in a row in the series.
In effect, the two schools were playing in soccer in Columbia while their gridiron football teams faced off at the same time in Lexington.
Cedergren made one change from the starting 11 that began UK’s 3-0 win over East Tennessee State in midweek non-conference action. Bailey Rouse replaced Meinzer in central midfield.
Kentucky was ranked No. 4 in the first edition of the NCAA Rating Percentage Index, No. 7 in the United Soccer Coaches poll, and No. 6 by College Soccer News this week.
Sophomore center back Aimé Mabika was named C-USA Player of the Week on Monday.
The Gamecocks dropped to 2-6-0 (0-3-0 C-USA).
The next one
Kentucky will return to The Bell on Wednesday for a highly anticipated non-conference rivalry showdown of top-five RPI sides. No. 3 Indiana, winner of eight in a row going into Sunday’s match v Northwestern, will arrive in Lexington with an eight-match winning streak, while No. 4 UK has four-straight wins and is unbeaten through nine.