The University of Louisville men’s soccer team opens the NCAA tournament with a home advantage as it hosts Denver in the opening round Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Cardinals (11-4-3), the American Athletic Conference regular season champions who earned an at-large bid, are hoping the friendly environment of Cardinal Park will be an added boost.
“In the NCAA tournament, to get started at home is always a great advantage,” Louisville head coach Ken Lolla said.
Summit League conference champion Denver (13-3-3) boasts an eight-game win streak. The Pioneers are led by senior Zach Bolden, the Summit League Offensive Player of the Year, who has 10 goals this season.
U of L is looking to rebound from its 1-0 loss to visiting Rutgers in the quarterfinal of the AAC tournament on Nov. 9.
“For us, I think the biggest part of what we do is pressure teams, especially at Card Park,” Lolla said. “I think we do a good job of getting pressure to the ball and doing that over 90 minutes wears on teams.”
Key players for the No. 17-ranked Cardinals include senior Jimmy Ockford, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore Ricardo Velazco, and junior goalkeeper Joachim Ball.
Ockford has started in all 18 games and has tallied four goals, including three game-winners. Velazco leads the team with seven goals, nine assists and 23 points.
“The biggest key is dealing with, for many of our guys, the first time of playing in the NCAA tournament,” Lolla said. “We only have a handful of guys that have experienced the NCAA tournament. It’s a very new group, a very young group.”
Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for youth and admission is free for U of L students with a student ID. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, through ticketmaster.com or by calling 852-5151.
Free live video of the game will be available at NCAA.com and GoCards.com.