Sean Reynolds doesn’t remember seeing the supporters sit last year during Louisville City FC’s home playoff game. Kadeem Dacres said Slugger Field was as loud as ever.
And then there was James O’Connor.
“I went charging down the line,” the LouCity coach said this week, remembering his reaction to a go-ahead goal scored in overtime. He jumped into a crowd of players celebrating 2015 USL MVP Matt Fondy’s strike. “It was really embarrassing, if I’m being honest.”
But O’Connor wouldn’t mind a repeat Sunday when the Richmond Kickers visit for the first round of the USL Cup Playoffs. LouCity will look to replicate last year’s home postseason victory over the Charleston Battery that launched the club into contention for a championship.
“Certainly, the passion of the crowd showed in that game and transmitted to the players,” O’Connor said. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for — that type of atmosphere where we fill the stadium and everyone’s cheering the guys on.”
On the field, LouCity enters the playoffs on a roll. The club has played five straight games unbeaten, with four of those victories, including a 2-0 win Sept. 10 over the Kickers. The performance has been lauded has one of LouCity’s best this season.
Off the field, the club saw an uptick in attendance in 2016, drawing an average of 7,218 fans to Slugger Field over the course of 15 home games. The figure contributed to an unprecedented 33 percent rise in crowd sizes this season in the 29-team USL.
LouCity’s quest to become the last club standing starts at 7 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s always an exciting time,” said Reynolds, a second-year defender. “It’s win or go home. You have to show up every day and prepare, and come game time, you need to take care of business.
“It’s definitely going to be high intensity, and it’s going to show a lot of character from both teams. You’ll see who wants it more.”
LouCity carried a No. 2 Eastern Conference seed into last year’s playoffs, same as in 2016. The Rochester Rhinos knocked off the boys in purple in the conference final before going on to win a USL title.
This year, the New York Red Bulls, who tallied a USL record 69 points in 30 regular-season games, potentially stand in the way. They’ve defeated LouCity twice and by an aggregate score of 3-0.
Even in the days of smaller USL playoff fields, the favorite didn’t always win.
“I think we won the league by record points,” O’Connor, a former Orlando City SC player, said of his 2012 team. Minutes into the postseason, top-seeded Orlando found itself down multiple goals to Wilmington and didn’t recover.
Lesson learned. He’s preaching to LouCity players not to become complacent.
“You treat Richmond with the respect that they deserve,” O’Connor said. “All the teams that have made the playoffs are good teams.”
That’s including LouCity, which saw Fondy, assists champion Bryan Burke and Juan Guzman all move up to higher division clubs this year. O’Connor’s side returned back stronger with a handful of roster additions, coming away with two points per regular-season game.
From spring until mid-summer, LouCity played 17 straight USL contests without a loss. After consecutive defeats, the club finished 5-1-3 in its final nine games.
“We’re getting more things out of more guys this year, we have a deep bench, and everyone is contributing,” Dacres, a winger, said. “We’re firing on all cylinders right now. From the defense up the to offense, everything is clicking.”
LouCity has out-scored opponents 52-27 and, impressively, let them take just 92 shots on goal all season. The Kickers are especially stingy as well defensively. For that reason, O’Connor’s squad could use some support at Slugger.
“Bring the dog Sunday night,” the coach joked. “I want everyone there. Bring everyone you can out Sunday, so we can have a big crowd and cheer the guys on. Our players certainly deserve it.”