After beating up on three weaker teams en route to a season-high winning streak, the Ohio State men’s soccer team has now set its sights on a tougher opponent.
OSU (7-5-3, 4-2-0) is set to host No. 19 Kentucky (9-3-3) to wrap up its regular-season home schedule Tuesday night.
As such, the game is also set to be senior night for the Buckeyes.
Seven seniors – goalkeepers Alex Ivanov and Andrian McAdams, defenders Konrad Kucharski and Zach Dobey and midfielders Yianni Sarris, Ryan Ivancic and Max Moller – are set to play their final regular season home game at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
“It’s kinda surreal that it’s already here,” redshirt-senior Ivanov said. “But it’s my fifth year, so I’ve seen it before, I’ve seen how much it’s meant to guys in the past, so I’m sure this will be the same.”
Senior forward Kenny Cunningham, who has missed the entire season following surgery early in the year, is expected to redshirt the season and come back for a fifth year, OSU coach John Bluem said.
“He’s a quality player,” Bluem said. “So although he’s not going to be with us this year, bad news, the good news is he’ll be with us next year.”
Bluem opted not to disclose the nature of the surgery.
While Cunningham hasn’t been among the players suiting up, Bluem said he has been thrilled with the performances — on and off the field — of the seniors who have played this season.
“They’re fantastic,” Bluem said. “Everyone knows we’ve had a couple difficult years, so for that group to go through those two years and then lead this team through what’s been a very, very successful season, is a credit to them.
“It’s a credit to not only their ability as players, but their ability as leaders. They’re all good students, they’ve all been very good representatives as student-athletes of the Ohio State University, we’re proud of them.”
However, it has not only been the upperclassmen who are excelling.
Sophomore forward Danny Jensen was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Monday following a week in which he took 10 shots and scored twice — with both goals coming in OSU’s victory over Rutgers on Saturday.
“It’s an honor, but all the credit is given to my teammates, they’re the ones that set me up,” Jensen said Monday. “My coaches are the ones that put me in the right position. I just do my job, but it’s mainly to their credit.”
Jensen is the second Buckeye to win the award this season. Junior forward Joao Ehlers was the co-recipient of the award on Sept. 9.
“I’m very happy for him,” Bluem said. “It’s a very prestigious conference. Danny’s been playing really well lately. He had two nice goals, and it’s nice to see him rewarded.”
OSU is now set to look to extend the season-high winning streak to four when it welcomes the Wildcats on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are playing our best ball,” Dobey said. “But Kentucky is, too, from what I can tell from their record and everything, so it’s going to be a great contest on Tuesday and we’re looking forward to it.”
With a season-ending road trip against Maryland and Michigan looming beyond the game against Kentucky, the players are making sure to keep their team focused on the present.
“We’re going to approach it just like all the other games in this season, it’s just one thing at time,” Ivanov said.
Despite Kentucky’s ranking of 19 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll — a poll in which OSU is not receiving any votes — Bluem said he feels OSU is just as strong of a team, as evidenced by the team’s RPI ranking.
OSU comes in at No. 22 in the RPI, while the Wildcats sit three spots behind at No. 25.
“They’re seen and regarded better than we are right now, but they’re right there in the RPI alongside of us,” Bluem said.
A big reason for OSU’s recognition by the RPI, as Bluem pointed out, is that 10 of the top 30 teams in the RPI sit on OSU’s schedule this season, which Bluem referred to as a “ridiculous strength of schedule.”
The Wildcats enter the game unbeaten in their last seven, including a current five-game winning streak.
OSU’s game against Kentucky is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.