By Andrew Bell
Louisville City FC defeated Loudoun United FC, 2-1, Saturday night away from home in a game featuring torrential rain, a comeback win and playoff implications for the boys in purple.
Loudoun United opened the scoring off of a corner kick in the 20th minute when forward Zach Ryan lost his mark, made a near-post run and headed in the opener.
After LouCity came close on numerous occasions, substitute Dylan Mares finally found the answer for the visitors in stunning fashion. In the 74th minute, a corner kick popped out to Mares on the edge of the box. Mares chested the ball out in front of him and fired the volley with his left foot, smashing in a brilliant strike.
LouCity forward Wilson Harris completed his team’s comeback in the 91st minute. After receiving the ball with his back to goal, Harris, at the top of the box, dragged the ball back with his right foot, pivoted and curled in a beautiful, left-footed finesse shot that looped and dipped over the keeper’s outstretched hand.
“I was really proud of the second half, the chances we created, and our set pieces from an attacking standpoint were excellent,” said head coach Danny Cruz on his team’s ability to turn things around. “We got a couple fantastic finishes to come away with the win. I thought that the mentality was excellent there in the second half and I know that the group and myself were looking to push for the three points and we were able to come away with them.”
Clinching the playoffs makes it nine straight seasons of doing so for LouCity and every year since the club’s founding in 2015.
“It’s a testament to what this club is all about and the work that it’s done year after year from ownership, to coaches that have been here, to the front office and to the players,” Cruz said. “It takes a village to do what we’re able to do. I’ll be honest: We didn’t even talk about making the playoffs in the locker room today because that’s the minimum expectation. The reason for that is the quality that this club has and what everybody puts into it.”
The win guarantees playoffs for LouCity, but the club is staying focused on a bigger task. Sitting in fifth place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings, City is one spot off starting the postseason at home. Just ahead of LouCity is Memphis 901 FC, which also came back on the night to take all three points against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. City and Memphis both have 49 points and are separated only by goal difference. With only three games remaining in the regular season, the result against Loudoun was crucial but was made more difficult than necessary.
A different second half
Loudoun United, 11th in the East, outplayed LouCity in the first half. Totaling 58% possession in the first 45 minutes, Loudoun seemed to be in the driver’s seat. On Saturday, anything less than a win would dash United’s playoff hopes, and their hunger to keep their postseason alive showed. With eight crosses and five corner kicks to LouCity’s four and one, respectively, Loudoun worked more efficiently to get to City’s end line and create chances.
By the end of the first half, however, LouCity had come close a few times. Right out of the gate in the second half, City looked different and dangerous. As the rain subsided and the boys in purple settled into the game, they started barraging Loudoun with shots and chances and were unlucky not to score earlier. By the time Mares’ 74th minute equalizer was smashed in, City was flying, and Mares’ goal injected LouCity with even more life.
In the second half, LouCity completely flipped possession numbers from the first, having 58% of the ball after the break. With possession came increased offensive production. LouCity out-shot Loudoun 12 to seven and landed five shots on target to the opponent’s one. City smashed its season average 18 crosses by putting in 27, 23 of which came in the second half.
LouCity’s offensive power in the second half kept Loudoun on its heels and barely allowed the opposition to breath. Loudoun wasn’t allowed a single shot between minutes 60 and 90.
At this point, a second goal for LouCity seemed inevitable. Harris’s 91st-minute winner was the 23-year-old’s ninth of the season, the most on LouCity despite missing games earlier in the season due to injury. Harris has also scored a goal in the past four games, including his stunner on Saturday and another winner against San Diego two weeks prior. Harris’s streak is equal to a club record he (2022) and Chandler Hoffman (2016) set.
“I think you could see that I liked that one a lot from my celebration,” Harris said about his stoppage-time strike. “It means a lot to score a game-winning goal like that for LouCity.”
Crucial in orchestrating LouCity’s win on Saturday, Brian Ownby put in a massive shift to lift his team from behind the scenes. Although the forward didn’t score or assist, his efforts against Loudoun were invaluable. The club veteran could be seen dancing around defenders, driving into the opposition’s box and linking up with his teammates up and down the pitch in more of a free-roam position. The game’s heat map shows that Ownby spent plenty of time on Harris’ left side of the attack, allowing for overloads and creating space for others to get involved in the space that he left. On the night, Ownby recorded two shots, two chances created, five fouls won and a team-high 15 passes into the final third.
Scoring seems to be picking up just in time for the boys in purple, who have hit the back of the net in six straight games, their longest run this season, and have scored 12 goals in that time. Notably, eight LouCity players have bagged goals over that same period, showcasing City’s threat and depth across positions. In its next two games, LouCity will play two of the defensively weakest sides across the USL Championship and will hope to continue recent scoring habits, especially as the importance of goal difference in the table becomes more apparent for City.
Magic from Mares
In his 26 minutes on the pitch, Mares completely changed the game. Mares’ spectacular volley from the top of the box in the 74th minute and assist to the game winner in the 91st minute highlighted an all-around performance that landed the 31-year-old Man of the Match honors.
His technical ability never in doubt, Mares struck his equalizer perfectly. Sixteen minutes later, Mares played the feet of Harris to set up the game-sealing goal. Signed before the start of the campaign, Mares now has five goals and two assists for LouCity.
“It was an excellent finish,” Cruz said about Mares’ goal. “His first touch and then his strike was fantastic. I thought that when Dylan came in, he was fantastic on both sides of the ball. He rewarded himself for the work that he’s been putting in and he obviously put us in a position to go on and win the game.”
In his short time on the field against Loudoun United, Mares tallied three shots, with two landing on target — the most of any player on the pitch Saturday. From his center-mid position, Mares created two chances and played ten passes into the final third.
LouCity will hit the road for the third time in a row next weekend against New Mexico United. Against New Mexico, City will hope to carry its momentum in from Saturday’s win and collect another three points before returning to Lynn Family Stadium for the last two games of the regular season.