Louisville City FC enjoyed a regular rivalry that could be described as tense — to put it kindly — with FC Cincinnati during the nearby club’s USL Championship tenure from 2016-2018. And Jimmy McLaughlin was at the forefront of what fans called the Dirty River Derby.
After more than 100 appearances in blue and orange, however, McLaughlin has donned purple since signing with LouCity ahead of the 2021 season, an adjustment that appears to be going smoothly.
The forward joined a crowded attacking corps but has lately found his footing in the lineup, making two of his three starts this season over LouCity’s last two games. That included McLaughlin’s first club goal in the form of a 63rd-minute rocket in Saturday’s victory over Atlanta United 2.
“It’s been a fantastic transition to the group here,” McLaughlin said. “All the guys have been extremely welcoming from top to bottom — from the top executives all the way down to the players. It’s really a family mentality and culture here.
“I had many good battles against a lot of these guys over the years. I think there was a mutual respect between me and then. To now be on their team to fight with them like my brothers is something I’m really proud to be part of.”
FC Cincinnati’s USL Championship days were known more for their success in the stands, earning the attention of Major League Soccer, than on the field. But games with Louisville were contentious, with LouCity coming out slightly ahead in the league series.
The rivals were denied a conference final clash in 2018 when FC Cincinnati was upset as the East’s top seed. And from there, it was on to MLS for both the club and McLaughlin, who was nagged by injuries at the next level.
McLaughlin tore his ACL in 2019 and missed most of 2020 with a high ankle sprain before his release from FC Cincinnati. He returned not to the Louisville he knew — soccer in a baseball stadium — but a club enjoying the comforts of Lynn Family Stadium.
“I’ve been dreaming about scoring in this fantastic stadium in front of these amazing fans, and it’s been a long journey for me over the last two years to get back to this level,” McLaughlin said after Saturday’s win. “To be able to score a goal in a wonderful moment like this in front of so many fans and my girlfriend was fantastic.”
McLaughlin banged a shot from distance off the cross bar and in. Then he channeled the great Ronaldo.
“It’s a wonderful strike,” said LouCity coach Danny Cruz. “You can see the joy in his celebration, and it’s certainly deserved.”
A former Philadelphia Union teammate of McLaughlin’s, Cruz said his new player has been a model in integrating at LouCity. McLaughlin usually features on the wings, a deep part of the roster for the boys in purple.
“No matter where he stands ‒ meaning if he’s starting, if he’s on the bench, if he’s not in the 18 ‒ he is still a kid that comes to work and wants to get better every single day,” Cruz said.
McLaughlin has now appeared in eight LouCity games, scoring on what was only his second shot attempted. Thanks in part to him, LouCity improved Saturday to 8-2-3, putting the boys in purple four points clear atop the USL’s Central Division.
“When you come to a team like this, it’s super competitive in every single position,” McLaughlin said. “There are so many players who have done so well over the years for this team. I think it’s that culture that continues to push each other and forces all of us to improve as players.
“I’ve been learning from the guys, focusing on what I can control and trying to take little tips from the coaching staff and other players to improve. I think it’s showing now on the field. I’m feeling confident in my game and hoping to build.”