Kalil ElMedkhar got the No. 3 Kentucky men’s soccer team off to a dream start within 36 seconds before Jason Reyes and Bailey Rouse added to the tally as the Wildcats clinched the Conference USA men’s soccer regular-season championship with a 3-0 victory against No. 24 Old Dominion on Friday at The Bell.
UK finished the regular season with a won-lost-drawn record of 15-1-1 (7-1-0 C-USA), one win shy of tying the program record for single-season victories. The Wildcats, who were level on points with ODU going into Friday, finished the eight-game C-USA portion of the schedule with 21 points from a possible 24, three ahead of ODU.
UK earned a first-round bye in next week’s Conference Tournament and will play in the semifinal round on Friday.
Kentucky won the second C-USA Regular Season crown from the last four years and second of Head Coach Johan Cedergren’s tenure. Senior captain Tanner Hummel, who was honored prior to his final regular season home match, was a starter on both of those teams.
“We have a great team here at UK,” Hummel said. “At the beginning of the year we knew we wanted to do something special. My freshman year we won conference and I wanted another one. The boys from the beginning were committed and driven.
“We’ve been blessed to have this year so far.”
The program now has six regular-season conference titles as UK won Mid-American Conference Championships in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004 and the aforementioned C-USA crown in 2015. UK won the MAC Tournament Title in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Kentucky kept its 12 clean sheet of the season, tying the 1995 team for most by a UK team in a single season.
1,813 members of the Big Blue Nation were at The Bell on a damp, cold evening giving the Wildcats a school-record average attendance 1,595 per match.
ElMedkhar gave Kentucky another early lead in a ranked showdown at home, running onto a Jason Reyes through ball to cap UK’s first foray forward. The junior scored his eighth goal of the season by cutting inside the box to draw out the ODU goalkeeper and finishing on an open net.
Reyes doubled UK’s lead 11 minutes later after finding space via a triangle interchange with JJ Williams and Nicolai Fremstad, then finishing for the seventh time this year.
Sophomore Bailey Rouse sealed the result four minutes after the restart heading in his first career goal. Kalil ElMedkhar sprung Marcel Meinzer along the right flank and the German freshman whipped a pinpoint cross toward Rouse running at the far post.
Sophomore goalkeeper Enrique Facusse made three saves to earn his nation-leading 12th shutout of the year – four of them having come in C-USA play.
He lowered his goals against average, which ranked No. 5 in the nation entering Friday, to .46. Having saved 49 of the 57 shots he’s faced this season, Facusse improved his DI No. 9 save percentage to 86 percent.
Facusse and Kentucky’s back four of Hummel, Leon Jones, Aimé Mabika and Cole Guindon have a 70-percent shutout percentage, which would rank No. 2 in the nation based on stats at the start of the month.
Williams assisted for the sixth time this season, and to go along with the 14 goals he scored this year prior to Friday, set the UK single-season record for points (two for a goal, one for an assist) at 34.
ElMedkhar has the second most goals on the team with eight and a team-high eight assists, two from tying the UK single-season record.
UK concluded the regular season 10-0-0 at home, with a 26-1 goals for-against output.
Kentucky improved to 3-0-0 this season against teams ranked in the coaches poll top-25 at the time of the match.
ODU dropped to 10-4-1 (6-2-0 C-USA). UK snapped The Monarchs’ three-game winning streak, and six-match unbeaten run.
Kentucky leads ODU in the overall series 4-1-2 and 3-0-1 in Lexington.
“Great night, couldn’t be any happier with the guys,” head coach Johan Cedergren said. “We scored three really good goals, kept a clean sheet. It’s been a really good season, 40 goals and 12 clean sheets.
“To score after 36 seconds – that makes everything so much easier. Just really proud to be the coach for this team and to be working with the staff that we have here. Now for us, it’s the last regular season game and we have to keep pushing.”
Friday’s match was billed as a winner-take-all Decision Day matchup as the victorious side would win the regular season championship. The teams entered tied atop the C-USA table on 18 points (three points for a win, one for a draw, zero for a loss) with one round of games to play.
Should the two sides have drawn, they would’ve shared the regular season title with 19 points apiece and the team with the better in-conference goal difference would claim the No. 1-seed (and first-round bye that goes alongside it at next week’s C-USA Tournament in Charlotte).
Cedergren named an unchanged starting 11 from the team that won 2-1 at Florida Atlantic last Sunday to set up Friday’s de facto regular-season title match.
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.
‑ GO CATS –
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