By Chris Mattingly
“It means everything to me.”
Those are the words of Issac Cano, one from a handful of Louisville City FC youth academy players selected to train and play with the first team during its recent preseason trip to Arizona. The forward Cano, who graduated from Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, was joined on the journey by forward Colin Elder (Bullitt East), midfielder Nick Harshaw (Collegiate), defender Jabari Rasheed (North Hardin) and defender Jack Travis (Trinity).
To travel at this time of year — Travis is a Trinity senior committed to play soccer this fall at Furman University — means missing some classroom time. But it’s a unique opportunity for a teenager to see the field against this sort of competition.
“I am very thankful that Trinity has been working with me to stay on top of my work in the classroom,” Travis said. “It is crazy to think I get to play against MLS teams that I have watched before.”
While in Arizona, LouCity played MLS’ Sporting KC to a 2-2 draw, defeated the USL Championship’s Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC by a 3-0 score and drew New Mexico United, 2-2. The trip will conclude with Saturday’s final stop to play at MLS’ Austin FC.
“It means a lot to me and my family that I got this opportunity,” said Cano, a member of LouCity’s U-19 academy squad. “I have learned to be a better communicator on the field just by training with the first team. There is a huge difference in communication as a team on the first team level.”
Cano registered an assist during LouCity’s match against Sporting KC, playing a pass off to Wilson Harris, who led the team in scoring in 2022. That performance earned a start in the Colorado Springs victory for Cano, who led Dunbar to a KHSAA state title during his senior season in 2021. Cano numbered 34 goals and 10 assists during the campaign.
“I think it is important that these trips become learning moments and a piece of their development paths,” LouCity’s head coach, Danny Cruz, said of the academy players. “We’re happy with how they’ve done, and I’d add that our veteran players have done an excellent job of making them feel comfortable, being hard on them when they need to be and arm around their shoulder when they need it.”
So continues an emerging trend opportunities for LouCity’s youth players. In 2021, defender Josh Wynder and midfielder Carlos Moguel Jr. traveled with the first team on a preseason trip to Texas. Later that year, both wound up signing their first professional contracts. In all, five academy players to date have completed City’s path to pro from the academy.
“I think the high standard that Louisville City holds everybody to makes it such a special club,” Travis said. “That standard means getting the best out of yourself on the field but also being good people off the field and representing the club well.”
Travis pointed out extra time spent on a specific skill, doing what’s necessary to recover from games and time spent together over team meals as valuable experiences during preseason.
“There is always another level to reach at the club,” he added, “and by maintaining that high standard at all times, it makes the progression through those levels a real possibility for every player.”