Louisville City FC’s back on the pitch as of Thursday’s first training session of 2024. LouCity will ramp up to a USL Championship season – the club’s milestone 10th campaign – kicking off in March. Here’s some of what to watch for with the boys in purple.
The bar’s high: LouCity won more games than it lost in 2023 and returned to the Eastern Conference Final for a ninth straight season, an unmatched streak in American professional soccer. Yet City’s fan base will be looking for a bounce-back year in a tribute to the culture surrounding the two-time league champs. City lost 12 games in 2023 and finished fifth on the table, both worst in the team’s history, before making its usual postseason run.
The openers: LouCity will wait longer than most to start its season, receiving a Week 1 bye. That means it’s 59 days until the boys in purple play a meaningful competition, traveling to play El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday, March 16. A week later, City hosts another Eastern Conference power, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, in its first regular season home game at Lynn Family Stadium on Saturday, March 23.
Competition structure: Teams will again battle for top-eight finishes in their respective Eastern and Western conferences to qualify for the 2024 USL Championship Playoffs. North Carolina FC is back in the Championship, moving up from League One, while Rhode Island FC is an expansion newcomer. Those additions shifted Memphis 901 FC and FC Tulsa to the West, giving the league 12 teams per conference.
Home highlights: A few matchups certainly stick out on the home slate, including an early meeting with rival Indy Eleven on April 6. Other Lynn Family Stadium dates to know include an August 10 showdown with Western Conference power Sacramento Republic FC; a conference final rematch against the Charleston Battery on August 17; the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ visit on October 12; and an October 26 finale against reigning title holder Phoenix Rising FC.
Climbing attendance: LouCity’s home record last year didn’t diminish support as City averaged a record 10,549 fans per home game, good for second across the USL Championship just behind Sacramento’s 10,627. Those numbers were tallied despite the boys in purple going 8-6-3 at Lynn Family Stadium, where they had lost just four times in the year and a half since June of 2021, when capacity limits lifted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
All-League additions: Coach Danny Cruz did brisk business during the offseason, bringing six newcomers to the roster – so far. That includes a pair of particularly prominent signings. Arturo Ordóñez was the USL Championship’s Defender of the Year last season with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, while midfielder Taylor Davila joined him on the All-League First Team off a stellar season with Rio Grande Valley FC.
Familiar core: As is normal for LouCity, the fresh faces will mesh with a lengthy list of returners, among them defenders Kyle Adams and Wes Charpie and forward Wilson Harris. Each of that trio of players signed multi-year contract extensions and will join the likes of the long-tenured Brian Ownby and Sean Totsch. Niall McCabe is back, too, as the only player on the roster to have played in each of LouCity’s 10 seasons.
Stepping up: Who will be next to wear the captain’s armband for LouCity? It’s a question mark entering preseason after the recent retirement of Paolo DelPiccolo, the club’s all-time appearances leader who served as captain for seven of his eight seasons in purple. City won’t lack DelPiccolo’s leadership, however, as he retired to accept a full-time role coaching in the youth academy and assisting with the first team.
Race to 50: Wilson Harris, whose USL Championship days date back to 2018 with the Sporting KC organization, enters 2024 on 49 regular season league goals. Should he hit the half-century mark before August 1, he’d become the league’s fastest player to 50 goals. Harris backed up a stellar first season in purple, when he scored 15 goals in 2022, by tallying another 9 in 2023 despite injuries limiting him to 19 starts.
Transfer market: LouCity both paid and received fees from other clubs while moving players during the offseason. First, Danish first division side AC Horsens paid City for the services of right back Manny Perez after two seasons in purple. Louisville responded by acquiring Sam Gleadle from Monterey Bay FC. Gleadle, a versatile defender, is expected to slot into Perez’s former position after numbering 5 goals and 6 assists in 2023.
Like fine wine: Brian Ownby continues to look better with age. The 33-year-old exits a season in which he led LouCity in chances created (47) and assists (5) to go with his 4 goals. The winger as a result holds the top spot on City’s all-time list for assists with 37. “Playoff Ownby” also returned in 2023. With a conference semifinal strike, he upped his postseason goals total to nine, tied for the league lead among active players.
City’s ironman: For the second time in his professional career, defender Sean Totsch played every minute of a regular season last year to cement “ironman” status. The other such instance was in 2021. Totsch finds himself on a four-year streak of making the Championship’s All-League squads, cementing a spot on the Second Team in 2023.
Path to pro: Forward Issac Cano this offseason became the sixth player to graduate from the LouCity Academy’s amateur ranks to sign a full professional contract. Cano, from Lexington, made his first team debut last year in City’s friendly with Mexican side Atlante FC. He follows in the footsteps of fellow pros Owen Damm, Carlos Moguel Jr., Sebastian Sanchez and brothers Elijah and Josh Wynder out of the nascent academy established in 2020.