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December 14, 2010

KICK IT: Cards’ NCAA run should help area soccer

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — It was mentioned more than once prior to University of Louisville’s NCAA Division I championship decider against Akron that a victory would provide a great opportunity to start a soccer dynasty at the college.

The truth is that the start of such a dynasty commenced before the Cardinals lost 1-0 to the Zips on Sunday in Santa Barbara, Calif.

The program has grown steadily over the past few years under the stewardship of Ken Lolla. But it came to life this year thanks to an unbeaten regular season and No. 1, ranking which led to numerous 5,000-plus crowds at Cardinal Park during the NCAA tournament.

Already, the area’s young talent must be dreaming of playing with Louisville. Not Indiana, UCLA, Ohio State or anyone else.

And the future looks bright for the Cards. Only two of Sunday’s starters were seniors, while regular standouts such as Dylan Mares, Andrew Farrell and super-sub Aaron Horton are freshmen.

Akron is proof that a program can be built steadily to become a soccer powerhouse. The Zips were runners-up in 1986, grew steadily in stature under none other than Ken Lolla from 1993 -2005, and have been mainstays come the business end of the NCAA tournament under current coach Caleb Porter.

On Sunday, the Zips became the first team to win an NCAA championship in any sport for Akron. Great encouragement can be garnered from that.

Louisville’s performance this year comes at a good time for local soccer. You should see a number of their players over the coming years taking the field for River City Rovers, a USL Premier Development League team which will play its first games next summer.

The league is seen as a shop window for Major League Soccer clubs looking to discover and identify aspiring pros.

The Rovers themselves will be pleased with the Cards’ profile boost, as having recognizable names on their roster will help with attendance.

Both of these teams should be responsible for more young players getting involved in the game and prolonging their involvement in it.

What is needed next is the go-ahead from U.S. Soccer for a Development Academy, which would feature teams at U15/16 and U17/18 levels.

There are currently 78 top youth soccer clubs — including Indiana United from Carmel and academies from many Major League Soccer franchises — fielding teams in a league which focuses on player development rather than going after results.

For example, the ratio of practices to games is around three-to-one, and the re-entry of players into games once substituted is eliminated.

A joint bid by Javanon and Mockingbird failed earlier this year, but the general feeling is it’s only a matter of time before one is introduced locally.

So will any of this help the game in Southern Indiana?

It can only have a positive knock-on effect, as hopefully extra exposure to the game and opportunities to watch more quality live soccer encourages more to take it up.

And whether the best and improving players from New Albany, Jeffersonville, Floyds Knobs, Clarksville, Sellersburg or anywhere else head to Louisville teams or not, they will still be part of our high school teams in the fall. (As a sidenote, it remains to be seen what effect, if any, tolling the bridges would have on such traversing).

I get the feeling that the game in Greater Louisville is ready to make a major leap forward, and hopefully we can leap with it.

Next week: Top 10 Moments of 2010.

You can write Aidan Kelly at aidokaydo@gmail.com.

 

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