by: Cody Ruth – @Bourbonier
Since it’s Valentine season, I think it’s time to write about everyone’s favorite Valentine: Louisville City FC. With the preseason well underway, and some surprises before the season proper starts, let’s recap the wild, wild ride that 2018 was for the purple faithful.
In the opening days of the year, we started with news that brought joy and pain as we brought back Magnus Rasmussen from Denmark, but lost Mark Anthony Kaye to LAFC, who became the first LouCity player to sign an MLS contract. That pattern of the agony and the ecstacy would continue to oscillate through the year, but with much more of the latter than the former. The team made headlines off of the field, announcing the opening of the Team Store on 4th St. Live, the Coach’s Show joining Soccer City Radio on the radio dial, and a donation to the Coalition for the Homeless, all of which increased visibility in the community as they prepared for the forthcoming season. In the dying days of the preseason, we brought on MLS veteran Shaun Francis to give depth on our wings.
We started the season with hopes high, and in March, Los Morados were up to the task of fulfilling those hopes, starting the season knocking off Nashville SC on Opening Day 2-0, and then seeing off the Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0. More importantly, Falls City released their Louisville City Golden Ale. Fortunately, it was not purple. We also saw the first of many rain delays as the North Carolina FC game was postponed from being played in a 34 degree swampy mess of a pitch.
April saw us leave the cozy confines of Louisville Slugger Field to give FC Cincinnati a black eye at home with a 1-0 victory. We continued on to defeat the Richmond Kickers by a 2-1 victory, conceding our first goal of the year to a team that as of 2/13/2019 was ranked by FiveThirtyEight to be 628th best team in the world, out of 628 tracked teams. The strange malaise of underperforming against bottom-ranked teams would resurface later in the season. We closed out the month by tying Atlanta United 2 1-1 and seeing the Bethlehem Steel off 3-1. The Steel game saw the professional debut of Alexis Souahy, who was our youngest signing at that point. Paco Craig, Kyle Smith and Cameron Lancaster earned USL Team of the Week through this stretch.
In a socks-and-sandals level of faux pas, the League scheduled a game on Derby Day. I mean, who does that? Anyway, LCFC was obviously distracted by the races later in the day as the first Louisville Indianapolis Proximity Association Soccer Contest of the year was taken by Indy, 0-1. LouCity’s record to this point was 5-1-1, and we were feeling pretty good starting our May. In the following week, USL announced that Lancaster had won Player of the Month, and Coach James O’Connor won Coach of the Month, reaffirming what we all already knew. This was followed up with a loss to Nashville, for the fourth losing streak in team history. We halted the skid in League play by beating ATLUTD 2, by a 2-1 margin and finishing by claiming the Dirty River Derby by defeating FC Cincy 2-0 upriver. We also saw U.S. Open Cup play begin with defeating the Long Island Rough Riders in what would become our new second home, Lynn Stadium on a 5-0 line and seeing off St. Louis FC 1-0 in the same place a short time later. Individual accolades were more scant, with Oscar Jiminez taking Team of the Week once. There was some massive news regarding the future of the team, as the Tax Increment Financing for the Stadium was approved by Frankfort. W00T!
June had an explosive start as LouCity knocked down the New England Revolution in the Open Cup by a 3-2 line to defeat an MLS team for the first time in our young club’s history. Honestly, the scoreline made the game look much closer than it was as we fumbled a bit and gifted them both of their goals. We continued our Cup run laying low Nashville 2-1, as we stood undefeated at Lynn Stadium on the year. We were however less lucky in league play as we tied Bethlehem Steel (0-0), Penn FC (3-3), NCFC (2-2) and New York Red Bulls II (3-3). We also lost at home to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds breaking a home unbeaten streak of 10 months, dating back to 8/26/2017 against Orlando City B. June also happened to be the most momentous in off-the field events in club history. LouCity made an immense donation to establish a five-a-side field in the Beechmont neighborhood, which was immediately and has been constantly occupied by underprivileged youths even into winter. This was a drop in the bucket compared to the biggest 48 hours in club history, as Scouse’s House and the Coopers marched onto a stretch of land for the first time on June 28 and Louisville City FC broke ground on our new home. (I actually grabbed a handful of the ceremonial “ground” and have it in a tiny jar.) Less than 24 hours later, on June 29, James O’Connor and Daniel Byrd had a “Contract in Principle” seeing them depart for Orlando City SC in the MLS. In their place, The Triumvirate of Luke Spencer, Paolo Del Piccolo and George Davis IV settled into an unprecedented role of mutual Player-Coaches. In one of those bits of symmetrical poetry that I am a fan of, the first and last goals of the O’Connor era at LCFC were scored by Magnus Rasmussen.
To be honest, we were all left a little breathless heading into July. Thabane Sutu left for Orlando as well, the last of any coach this team had ever known.The team was fully in the hands of three players, armed with the grit and determination that is the cornerstone of this team. The Tri came out strong, beating the Rowdies 2-1 to pull our first league victory since Cincy in May. There was a stumble to the Battery as we fell 1-2, before picking back up to run out Charlotte Independence 4-1 and Ottawa Fury 3-0. (We were supposed to play Toronto FC II in this stretch, but was rescheduled due to scheduling conflicts with Open Cup Play.) Speaking, of Open Cup play, we lost to Chicago Fire with a $10,000,000+ roster AND THEY FIELDED EVERY DOLLAR OF IT. We lost 4-0 to a team that outspent our roster 15:1. Shouldn’t they have won 15-1? Anyway…Lancaster, Smith, Oscar and Ilia Ilic all got Team of the Week, and El Capitan Brad Estes was officially named President of the Club! I have a shrine in my basement…really.
John Hackworth was named Head coach and Sporting Director on August 2nd. Due to commitments to the USMNT U-17, he would not be able to take the field for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, The Tri rolled on to draw Indy 2-2 and defeat NYRB 2, 6-4 in one of the highest scoring games in the league. The Triumvirate finished with a 4-2-1 record across all competitions. Hackworth made a statement about change as he signed two players in his first 30 days bringing James Sands on loan from NYCFC and hiring Jose Carranza in a great investment signing. The Hackworth era started a little soft, drawing with Nashville 0-0. He compensated by shellacking Charlotte 3-0 and Richmond 6-0 (the largest margin of victory in the league for the year). Somehow, LouCity tripped on the point dispenser known as Toronto by a 4-1 line. Not to be deterred, August was closed by drawing with the Battery 2-2. To the surprise of nobody, Lancaster earned Team of the Week twice, and Player of the Month as well.
The final chapter of the Dirty River Derby as we know it, was marred by a rain delay. FCC went up 1-0 before the game was postponed due to rain in the 38th minute. LouCity were unable to find an answer when the game resumed the following Tuesday. This was the last time Louisville City FC lost. This also marked when we started to see #HackworthOut on twitter.
This also marked the period where we brought in the first player in LouCity history to earn a USMNT call-up when we brought Jonathan Lewis on loan from NYCFC. We dominated the month drawing Pittsburgh 2-2 before beating Penn 3-0, Ottawa 4-0 (to clinch the playoffs) and ATLUTD 2, 4-1. Paco and Oscar won Team of the Week again. We made two more signings in Danny Cruz, Assistant Coach and Napo Matsoso was added to the roster. Scott Budnick also began filling in as Goalkeeper Coach on a Volunteer basis.
We open October with a revenge showing on Toronto 3-1, then drop NC 2-1 and end the regular season on top of Indy 11 by a 1-0 scoreline. George Davis IV sets a USL record with 200 appearances, Niall McCabe sets a club record with 100 appearances in League play, Paco and Ilic gets Team of the Week and Lancaster sets a League record for Goals Scored, wins Player of the Week, Player of the Month and the Golden Boot. Not a bad way to end the season.
You can tell when it’s playoff season because LouCity take things to the next level. The team that LCFC finished the regular season against the week before, Indy, were thrown in the mud by a 4-1 scoreline. The first goal allowed by LouCity at home in the playoffs…..ever. To rebound from that minor embarrassment, they ended the Steel’s season 2-0in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. For the third year in a row, we met New York in the Eastern Conference Finals, who beat us in 2016 and took us to penalties in 2017, however they were put to the sword in 2018 by the Boys in Purple and were brutally dispatched 5-1. After repeating as Eastern Conference Champs, we took a breath long enough to see Lancaster and Paco take All-League 1st Team honors before playing for the Cup for a second time.
In the press, not just here, but AROUND THE WORLD, the storyline was not about us repeating for the title. We were an afterthought. We were another valiant foe projected to be dispatched as the legendary Didier Drogba sought to end his career hoisting one final Cup. Articles ran from Toronto to Tokyo about this match, and we were never the star.
None of that mattered. The only star that matters is the second one over our crest after we sent Didier Drogba and the Phoenix Rising home, shut out on a 1-0 scoreline. We are now tied for the most USL cups with our sister team, Orlando City (USL). For the second straight year, the goal that brought the cup home was scored right in front of me, in Scouse’s House. For the second straight year, we stand alone.
Before the year was to end, we had a tragedy take the wind out of our sails. The Founder of Louisville City Football Club, Wayne Estopinal, passed away in a plane crash. His legacy in American soccer cannot be understated as he launched the TWO most successful teams in league history, but also helped bring Orlando into the MLS. Wayne gave us this team. He sat down with some damn fools who dared to dream and made it work. The dream became LouCity, and those damn fools became The Coopers. Every supporter owes each of you every measure of gratitude as we look to defend our title for the second time. The team draws strength from the supporters, and we will continue to be its bedrock. Thank you, Purple Family, and I look forward to seeing you in the stands through 2019.