On an evening when Louisville City FC lacked major chances through the run of play, the boys in purple found another way to score during Saturday’s 1-0 victory over El Paso Locomotive FC.
Niall McCabe’s grounded 52nd-minute corner kick found a cutting Jorge Gonzalez for the game’s only goal at Southwest University Park, with the victory continuing a run of seven straight games unbeaten for LouCity — six of them wins.
“We didn’t practice it this week, but right before the game (head coach) Danny (Cruz) talked about it,” Gonzalez said. “It was a great set piece play, and we executed it right how we wanted to.
“…It’s never easy to get three points when we play away, but those are the games we need to win to end up first in the league.”
City has needed every result to maintain its spot atop the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings. Earlier Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rowdies won to temporarily move atop the table before a result in El Paso restored order.
The boys in purple sit at 14-3-4, good for 46 points. It’s the best start through 21 games for a club that has played in seven straight Eastern Conference Finals and won back-to-back league titles in 2017 and 2018.
“You’ve got a lot of injuries at the moment, and when you look at it, it seems like time and time again guys get their numbers called and step up,” Cruz said. “For me, that’s something to be really proud of. When you look at the goal, (goalkeepers coach) Scott Budnick did an excellent job drawing that up this week. He saw the space, and when you look at the execution between Niall and Jorge, it went exactly the way it was planned.
“For me, thinking about the staff and players, there’s a lot of pride tonight.”
Paired with the game-winning goal, LouCity’s defense stifled El Paso for a league-leading 11th clean sheet of the year. The hosts totaled just 0.53 expected goals, according to Stats Perform, and were held without a big scoring chance.
Locomotive FC were also stymied by a disciplined City back line that forced them into nine offsides calls, continually avoiding a breakthrough in behind.
“We’re constantly working on that,” Cruz said. “The idea is, we’re a pressing team. And when you’re a pressing team, if the back line doesn’t step with the group that’s pressing in the front, then the space gets too big in the middle of the field and you’re easy to play through.”
In the process, City moved ahead out of a first half that was largely even. McCabe’s delivery went down as his fifth assist of the campaign, with Gonzalez registering his third goal.
Continuing to push, the boys in purple had opportunities to double their lead. Brian Ownby was denied two minutes after the goal when the opposing keeper came off his line to parry away a shot. Ownby had another look in the 76th minute when he recovered a loose ball near the top of the box and rifled a shot just wide of the post.
With the 82nd minute came a milestone. Elijah Wynder — the club’s first player signed to a USL Academy Contract, then to complete the path to a pro deal — returned to the pitch in purple for the first time since an early 2021 leg injury forced him to miss the entire campaign. Wynder opened this year on loan to USL League One’s FC Tucson before his return this month.
“I’ve been out more than a year with this team — spent some time away — but to get back on the field with the boys in the locker room and the people that I love,” Wynder said, “it meant the world to me.”
Untimely, LouCity didn’t need a second goal to continue a dominant run dating back to June 18. Over that span, the squad has out-scored opponents by a 16-4 margin.
Now into the back half of the season, the boys in purple will be back home next Saturday to host the Charleston Battery at 8 p.m. inside Lynn Family Stadium.
Game Summary: El Paso Locomotive FC vs. Louisville City FC
Date: July 30, 2022
Venue: Southwest University Park
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. ET
Weather: 90 degrees, partly cloudy
Man of the Match: Jorge Gonzalez
El Paso Locomotive FC (0, 0, 0)
Louisville City FC (0, 1, 1)
Louisville City FC:
52’ Jorge Gonzalez (Niall McCabe)
El Paso Locomotive FC: 1 — Evan Newton, 31 — Nicholas Hinds, 4 — Andrew Fox, 24 — Yuma, 13 — Matt Bahner, 22 — Liam Rose (61’ 6 — Richie Ryan), 7 — Josue Gomez, 10 — Dylan Mares, 8 — Eric Calvillo (61’ 21 — Emmanuel Sonupe, 74’ 28 — Edison Azcona), 23 — Christiano Francois (82’ 53 — Noe Coturno), 9 — Luis Solignac
Subs not used: 79 — Rommel Tarin, 14 — Ander, 16 — Miles Lyons
Coach: John Hutchinson
Louisville City FC: 1 — Kyle Morton, 15 — Manny Perez (68’ 30 — Jan-Erik Leinhos), 6 – Wes Charpie, 4 — Sean Totsch, 19 — Oscar Jimenez, 12 — Tyler Gibson, 11 — Niall McCabe (68’ 77 — Enoch Mushagalusa), 9 — Jorge Gonzalez (82’ 36 — Paolo DelPiccolo), 10 — Brian Ownby, 14 — Wilson Harris (82’ 23 — Elijah Wynder), 21 — Ray Serrano (60’ 7 — Napo Matsoso)
Subs not used: 24 — Parker Siegfried, 8 — Carlos Moguel Jr.
Head Coach: Danny Cruz
Stats Summary: El Paso Locomotive FC / Louisville City FC
Shots: 12 / 12
Shots on Goal: 4 / 4
Possession: 57.1% / 42.9%
Fouls: 5 / 10
Offside: 9 / 1
Corner Kicks: 9 / 9
El Paso Locomotive FC:
25’ Aaron Gomez (yellow)
Louisville City FC:
77’ Enoch Mushagalusa (yellow)
Referee: Gabriele Giusti