By Andrew Bell
Louisville City FC was defeated, 3-0, by El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday afternoon in its home opener at Lynn Family stadium after a rare showing of a deficient LouCity side.
El Paso scored its first goal in the 39th minute, doubled the lead just before the halftime whistle and added to its advantage after a wayward City back pass fell right to Locomotive FC winger Petar Petrovic, who allowed the ball to travel across to his left foot before redirecting it between goalkeeper Kyle Morton’s fingertips at the right post.
“Ultimately, it lands on me,” coach Danny Cruz said about his team’s subpar performance. “I spoke to the players about making sure that we have a good reaction. The turnout tonight was fantastic. We wanted to put on a better performance. But ultimately, we fell way, way short. It was nowhere near the level of expectation we have here.
“I thought we were shocking on the ball. We were turning the ball over in poor areas and we didn’t defend the box well.”
In the teams’ only other meeting, LouCity defeated El Paso away by a 1-0 score last July. Heading into Saturday’s match, LouCity sat atop the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference table with two wins collected in California in the same trip. El Paso entered the game having lost three in a row at home.
El Paso’s poor start to the 2023 campaign isn’t indicative of its talent, though, as Locomotive fell just short of a playoff spot last year. Additionally, LouCity had multiple key figures missing from its team sheet with the likes of Wilson Harris, Wes Charpie and Ray Serrano out injured. Josh Wynder missed due to international duty, and Brian Ownby served a one-game red card suspension.
The good, the bad and the ugly
In the first half, Cruz’s side implemented a system reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s early 2010s FC Barcelona squad, which applied plenty of pressure high up the pitch after losing the ball, then shifted back to a defensive formation if possession didn’t change hands within a few seconds.
For LouCity, striker Cameron Lancaster was the first to press, forcing the ball around El Paso’s back line. If El Paso’s possession reached the midfield, either Enoch Mushagalusa, Paolo DelPiccolo, Elijah Wynder or Rasmus Thellufsen would be the second line of pressure. This system seemed to force El Paso into playing awkward passes or long balls right to a purple shirt. LouCity also won possession back on three occasions in the final third in the first half.
Additionally, the first 45 minutes saw LouCity outside back Manny Perez link up with Thellufsen numerous times down the right flank. The two combined for seven crosses and set each other up via overlapping runs, one-twos and raw pace.
Even when his team was trailing, Perez worked coast to coast to set his teammates up for chances. The LouCity sophomore put in a full shift and created three chances, won six out of his seven duels, and had a pair of tackles and interceptions each.
LouCity Academy forward Collin Elder also made his debut as an 85th-minute substitute, logging a shot and a duel won.
“He’s a kid who’s worked really, really hard,” Cruz said. “Honestly, we don’t just give these opportunities. They’re earned.”
Despite bright spots to LouCity’s game, the boys in purple seemed to lack quality contact on the ball when finishing. Out of 12 total shots, only two were put on target compared to six on-target El Paso shots out of eight.
City’s expected goals (0.98 Xg) suggest that at least one chance should have found the back of the net against Locomotive. Ownby’s presence was certainly missed in the attacking department, especially after demonstrating his clinical finishing dimension against Monterey Bay last weekend.
LouCity’s more aggressive pressing scheme seemed to leave the back line exposed to counter attacks, and the powerful winds on Saturday seemed to make City’s defensive line more hesitant to meet aerial balls.
What we learned
While LouCity’s squad is brimming with talent throughout, certain players’ absences seemed to make the difference on Saturday. Ownby’s combined scrappiness and precision and Wynder’s strong defensive presence have certainly lifted LouCity’s performance in past games. Recent signing Jordan Scarlett has also bolstered his team’s defensive effort in the opening two games but was missing from the action on Saturday.
Wrapping up his thoughts of a disappointing afternoon, LouCity defender Sean Totsch said, “Ultimately, we have the talent here to do great things and have great seasons, but that’s a day in and day out thing. Just because we won the first two games and they struggled to start the season doesn’t mean they’re going to roll over for us. There was a sense of complacency, and that’s not good enough. That’s not us. That’s not normal, and it’s something where we have to take a deep look at ourselves.”
LouCity is now second in the East with Birmingham Legion FC overtaking the boys in purple by a point. City will look to bounce back from the loss with another trip to California next weekend for a game against a quality Sacramento Republic FC side.