In 2010, Louisville fell one game short of a dream season, losing 1-0 in the NCAA National Championship to the University of Akron.
Getting back to the title tilt is a goal for players and coaches alike, and the fortunes of two seniors — forward Colin Rolfe and defender Austin Berry — will have a lot to do with how close the Cardinals can get to reaching their goal.
“I definitely want [a national championship] a lot,” Berry told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “It’s something that when I came into college, it’s been a goal of mine every year here.”
The leadership, talent and ability Berry and Rolfe provide will be important pieces as Louisville chase a return to the title game.
“On the field, both of them are two of the best, if not the best in their positions, I think in the country,” head coach Ken Lolla told MLSsoccer.com.
With several returning starters, the Cardinals don’t have to rely exclusively on the pair. Backing up Berry is senior goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux, and fellow seniors Nick DeLeon and Kenney Walker should help support Rolfe in the attack.
It’s an experienced group that knows what it takes to make a national championship. Regardless, Lolla expects Berry and Rolfe to continue leading by example, as they did last year.
“Both of those guys are very well respected for not only what they do but how they do it,” he said.
The pair is a tale of potential fulfilled. Both arrived on campus four years ago as extremely talented and athletic prospects who were also a bit raw in the technical and tactical aspects of the game.
Under the tutelage of Lolla, each has refined his respective game in the last few years to a point where a pro career seems like the logical next step. Rolfe, in particular, has evolved from a pure goalscorer into a nuisance on both sides of the ball — and a catalyst in the attack.
“I think I’ve learned that it’s not about scoring goals,” Rolfe said. “That’s really individual-minded. It’s all about the team, and if you work for the team, the team will work for you and vice versa.”
This summer, Rolfe and Berry got a taste for the life of a pro soccer player. Each trained with the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders at different junctures before doing stints in Scandinavia. Berry trained with Örebro in Sweden, while Rolfe went to another Swedish club, Djurgården, and Norwegian side Fredrikstad.
“It was a good experience to see what it’s like at the next level and not necessarily just over here, also overseas,” Rolfe said.
Lolla thinks the two have what it takes to make an impact in the pro ranks — whether that’s in MLS or somewhere abroad.
“Both guys have developed very good habits that will certainly help them succeed once they get to the next level,” he said.
For the time being, both are setting pro ambitions aside and remain firmly focused on Louisville’s season at hand. The Cardinals travel to Wake Forest on Friday after starting off their regular season with a 2-0 win over UCLA.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.