On Sept. 22, the Ohio State men’s soccer team went to Louisville, Ky., and tied what was then the country’s No. 8 team, 0-0. The stakes are much higher Sunday, as OSU returns to Louisville to take on what is now the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament’s third round.
Coach John Bluem said he schedules tough games for his players to prepare for them for the rigors of the post season. But his team has struggled on the road this season since its first visit to Louisville, with a record of 1-4.
“There’s a little bit of familiarity there,” Bluem said. “You fear the unknown more than what you know. I think it’s good that we get to play there. We know what the field is like, what the stands are like … (it’s) a little bit of a comfort zone.”
“I think we go in with the mentality that this could be the last game of the season and we (have) to go out there and fight for each other,” senior Sam Scales said. “They’re a great team, but we’re also a great team.”
Louisville (17-0-3) was seen as the likely third-round opponent for OSU (11-5-3) when the NCAA tournament bracket was initially announced. Louisville beat the College of Charleston 3-1 in the tournament’s second round Sunday.
Louisville’s athletic website is reporting that regular admission tickets are sold out for Sunday night’s match, and there are only standing room tickets available for its 2,200 seat venue, Cardinal Park Soccer and Track Stadium. Bluem said he expects 6,000 fans to attend the match.
“We’re not super intimidated or anything like that,” senior Matt Gold said. “I think everyone knows we always show up for the big games.”
Scales, a native of Louisville, said his hometown school recruited him heavily. He appreciated the quality of the program but ultimately chose OSU because it was a better fit for him, he said.
“Louisville coach Ken Lolla sat me down when he was recruiting me and said that they would have a top five team in the country by the time I was a senior, but I was attracted to Ohio State,” Scales said.
Scales said his family has already purchased 100 tickets for the game to make the atmosphere more accommodating for the Buckeyes.
The game will be played at 7 p.m. Sunday with the winner taking on the victor of No. 8 UCLA and at-large Dartmouth.