It was a game-winning goal befitting of the match: a scrappy, physical Eastern Conference Final decided by Elijah Wynder’s frenetic extra-time finish that sent 10-man Louisville City FC to its fourth USL Championship Final in eight years with a 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday at Lynn Family Stadium.
On a night full of wind and rain, in a game with a red card and numerous other cagey moments, the 19-year-old Wynder stuck with a loose ball in the box off an Oscar Jimenez corner in the 107th minute and toe-poked his second goal of the year past Rowdies goalkeeper Phil Breno.
LouCity now awaits the winner of Sunday night’s Western Conference Final between San Antonio FC and Colorado Switchbacks FC, with the USL Championship Final set for 8:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 13.
“It’s excellence. It’s what we work for,” said LouCity captain Paolo DelPiccolo. “It’s a step toward what we are working for, and lifting the trophy is always something special. I’m just elated, especially the way these last two games have gone. To see Elijah get the winner tonight and everyone on the team just work and work and work and fight and get there and get those victories, it really means a lot, and I’m just so proud to be a part of what they’re doing.”
Saturday’s game was of the caliber expected between two teams that have met in three consecutive Eastern Conference title games after these teams also met in the national semifinal in 2020 and 2021.
There were a combined 26 fouls, including the 82nd-minute sending off of City’s Corben Bone for a post-foul push. And there were a number of other tense moments, too, with LouCity forwards Enoch Mushagalusa and Wilson Harris coming close to scoring and Tampa Bay nearly taking the lead through substitute Dayonn Harris.
“You never want to go down a man in a game like that, but with that group, I believed. I absolutely believed,” LouCity coach Danny Cruz said. “I asked them to believe before the game, and they did that. … We had guys who were fatigued. We had guys who worked their butts all night. But again, in this environment, with this fan base, it’s very difficult to lose a game in Lynn Family Stadium.”
City went into halftime wondering what it might take to get a goal. The boys in purple started fast and generated a number of chances in the opening 45 minutes.
In the 34th minute, Mushagalusa collected the ball out on the left flank, cut inside and ripped a right-footed shot just over the crossbar from the edge of the area. Forty minutes later, Harris nearly snuck a low shot past Breno, but the Rowdies goalkeeper dived to his right to stop it.
Tampa Bay’s Harris fizzed a right-footed effort just over the crossbar in the 79th minute, and his effort in regulation stoppage time required a diving stop from City goalkeeper Danny Faundez, who posted his third clean sheet this season.
In City’s second consecutive playoff game to go into extra time, the boys in purple switched to a back-five defensively and mostly absorbed pressure from Tampa Bay. That led to the opportunity on Jimenez’s corner, which Brian Ownby first headed before Wynder tried to knock on the second effort.
The ball got caught in the crowd before spilling back to Wynder, who smashed in a low right-footed shot to send 11,563 fans at Lynn Family Stadium into a frenzy and LouCity back to the league championship game with a shot at a third title.
“I’m just happy to help the team out,” Wynder said. “We went down a man, and we’re all fighting. So, this one is not just big for me, but it’s also big for all the guys. We all fought. It wasn’t just me – I’m just the one who got the goal, but this is a team effort.”
Game Summary: Louisville City FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Date: November 5, 2022
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Weather: 67 degrees, cloudy
Man of the Match: Manny Perez
Louisville City FC (0, 0, 1, 1)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (0, 0, 0, 0)
Louisville City FC:
107’ Elijah Wynder
Louisville City FC (4-3-3): 18 – Danny Faundez; 15 – Manny Perez (88’ 19- Oscar Jimenez), 4 – Sean Totsch, 6 – Wes Charpie, 3 – Amadou Dia; 13 – Corben Bone, 12 – Tyler Gibson (117’ 8 – Carlos Moguel Jr.), 36 – Paolo DelPiccolo (c) (65’ 10 – Brian Ownby); 77 – Enoch Mushagalusa (84’ 7 – Napo Matsoso), 14 – Wilson Harris (84’ 66 – Josh Wynder), 21 – Ray Serrano (65’ 23 – Elijah Wynder)
Subs not used: 24 – Parker Siegfried
Head Coach: Danny Cruz
Tampa Bay Rowdies (4-3-3): 30 – Phil Breno; 2 – Conner Antley, 27 – Laurence Wyke, 24 – Robert Castellanos, 33 – Aaron Guillen; 31 – Nicky Law (105’ 77 – Lucky Mkosana), 4 – Lewis Hilton; 19 – Jake LaCava (46’ 10 – Steevan Dos Santos), 11 – Leo Fernandes (62’ 7 – Yann Ekra), 8 – Jake Areman (62’ 23 – Sebastian Dalgaard); 13 – Sebastian Guenzatti (77’ 21 – Dayonn Harris)
Subs not used: 56 – Raiko Arozarena; 5 – Jordan Scarlett
Head Coach: Neill Collins
Stats Summary: Louisville City FC / Tampa Bay Rowdies
Shots: 11 / 12
Shots on Goal: 3 / 3
Possession: 46.4% / 53.6%
Fouls: 14 / 12
Offside: 1 / 10
Corner Kicks: 8 / 4
Louisville City FC:
48’ Sean Totsch (yellow)
83’ Corben Bone (red)
100’ Wes Charpie (yellow)
105’ Bench (red)
Tampa Bay Rowdies:
83’ Lewis Hilton (yellow)
90’ + 3 Dayonn Harris (yellow)
Referee: Mark Allatin