Jonathan Gomez could cap his breakout 2021 season by adding to a growing list of individual accomplishments.
The Louisville City FC defender on Tuesday was announced as a finalist for both the USL Championship’s Defender of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards. Winners will be announced in the coming week.
Previously named to the All-League First Team, Gomez emerged as a superior two-way player last season, scoring two goals to go with eight assists and 42 key passes in the LouCity attack. Defensively, he registered a 75.9 percent tackle success rate and 54.1 percent duel success rate while numbering 117 recoveries.
The young dual-national garnered attention from Mexico’s national team, earning a call up to train, and was placed on a preliminary U.S. national team roster for last summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup. Moving forward, Gomez, a native of Texas, retains the option to represent either country.
When the transfer window opens in January, the 18-year-old is set to join La Liga’s Real Sociedad, making the rare move from the USL Championship ranks to a first division European club.
Others up for Defender of the Year include Miami FC’s Paco Craig and the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Forrest Lasso. Gomez is vying for Young Player of the Year alongside San Antonio FC’s Jose Gallegos and El Paso Locomotive’s Diego Luna.
As with the All-League Teams, awards were voted on by team management and a league-wide media panel that included representation from every USL market.
Multiple Louisville City FC stars were on Monday named to USL Championship All-League Teams with defenders Jonathan Gomez and Sean Totsch among the best 11 and forward Cameron Lancaster featuring on the second team.
Three All-League selections in a single season — as voted on my club management alongside a league-wide media panel with representation in every USL market — rank only behind the four LouCity had in 2020.
An 18-year-old set to complete a historic transfer to La Liga’s Real Sociedad, Gomez had a breakout campaign as a two-way threat. He scored two goals, numbered eight assists and earned multiple penalty kicks for the boys in purple. Defensively, the dual international drawing interest from the U.S. and Mexico national teams recorded 43 interceptions and had a 75% tackle success rate.
Totsch, one of two players to repeat as an All-League First Team selection, put together an ironman season, playing every minute for the club in 2021. In the process, he completed a league-high 1,765 of 2,079 passes during the regular season and bolstered a unit that faced a league-fewest 263 shots. Totsch made 195 recoveries and won 114 aerial duels, second among all defenders.
Lancaster earned his third All-League selection in the past four seasons after becoming only the second player in league history to record multiple 20-goal regular season campaigns to lead LouCity’s attack. The English forward averaged a goal every 92.6 minutes, the best scoring rate in the USL Championship among players with at least 10 goals in the regular season campaign.
Finalists for individual league awards will be announced on Tuesday.
2021 USL Championship All-League First Team
GK – Evan Louro, Tampa Bay Rowdies
D – Paco Craig, Miami FC
D – Jonathan Gomez, Louisville City FC
D – Forrest Lasso, Tampa Bay Rowdies
D – Sean Totsch, Louisville City FC
M – Danny Barrera, Hartford Athletic
M – Jorge Hernandez, LA Galaxy II
M – Aodhan Quinn, Phoenix Rising FC
F – Hadji Barry, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
F – Sebastian Guenzatti, Tampa Bay Rowdies
F – Santi Moar, Phoenix Rising FC
2021 USL Championship All-League Second Team
GK – Matt VanOekel, Birmingham Legion FC
D – Aaron Guillen, Tampa Bay Rowdies
D – James Musa, Phoenix Rising FC
D – Mark Segbers, Memphis 901 FC
D – Josh Yaro, San Diego Loyal SC
M – Jose Gallegos, San Antonio FC
M – Kenardo Forbes, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
M – Diego Luna, El Paso Locomotive FC
F – Neco Brett, Birmingham Legion FC
F – Cameron Lancaster, Louisville City FC
F – Kyle Murphy, Memphis 901 FC
Louisville City FC conceded each of the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ goals after the 83rd minute Saturday in a heartbreaking, 3-2 USL Championship Eastern Conference Final defeat at Al Lang Stadium.
The boys in purple built an early lead when Brian Ownby tapped in a 10th-minute ball whipped in from an Oscar Jimenez set piece. Not long after, a Paolo DelPiccolo cross led to a Rowdies own goal to make it 2-0.
But over the final few minutes of regulation, Tampa Bay’s substitutes ramped up the hosts’ attack. Lucky Mkosana scored two minutes after coming on when he hit a low shot from the top of the box. LouCity couldn’t properly clear a corner, and six minutes into stoppage a similar scenario played out. Mkosana this time headed in an equalizer at the back post to cap an extended Rowdies possession.
Steevan Dos Santos, who also came on in the second half, dealt the final blow in the first extra time period.
The loss dashed LouCity’s hopes of adding a third star above its crest, with Tampa Bay advancing to host Western Conference Final winner Orange County SC in the USL Championship Final.
“I’m extremely thankful for this group of players and everything that they’ve given me this year,” Head Coach Danny Cruz said. “Obviously, to lose the way that we did is going to hurt for a long time. There’s no doubt about that. I’m still proud of the work we did this year and I’m proud of the fight the players gave tonight. We talked at halftime about not taking the foot off the gas. That obviously didn’t happen there. To be one clearance away from the championship is certainly something we’re going to be feeling for a long time.”
What we learned against Tampa Bay
LouCity came out firing on all cylinders in the first half with two early goals, including that fortunate own goal. The boys in purple seemed content to sit back from there, slowing down a game the Rowdies preferred to make a back-and-forth affair.
Composed defending turned into desperate attempts to prevent an equalizer late. After stats were near even at the break, Tampa Bay went on to try 17 more shots, 15 second half crosses and seven crosses.
The strategy will be dismissed, but City entered Saturday on a run of three straight 1-0 victories, all over formidable opponents. Still, it’s fair to say Tampa Bay’s attacking prowess was unlike anything the club had faced this season.
Low points from the year
This LouCity side will be remembered for its struggles late in halves — down to the goals that ended the campaign. Cruz’s side conceded a goal late in either half in six of the last seven regular season games, with a clean sheet victory over Birmingham Legion FC just in time to secure a Central Division title and No. 1 playoff seed.
But that’s not all on tactics. LouCity dealt with injuries, many of them longterm, throughout the season to just about every member of the roster. That included time missed down the stretch for players such as Corben Bone and Tyler Gibson, who both slotted into starting midfield roles the majority of the season.
And the high points
LouCity led the USL Championship in attendance, and the boys in purple delivered home performances to match, losing just once at Lynn Family Stadium after capacity moved to 100% in mid-June.
As a result, the club narrowly finished atop the Central Division, taking it down to a dramatic final weekend bout with runner-up Birmingham Legion FC. City’s regular season point total was on par with the league’s best and set the club up to host the USL Championship Final would it have advanced.
Individually, Cameron Lancaster made it his second career season with 20 goals scored. Brian Ownby was an exception to the injury rule, remaining healthy enough to tally a career-high 11 assists. Captain Paolo DelPiccolo moved up into the attack and netted a personal-best nine goals as a result.
The 18-year-old defender Jonathan Gomez, meanwhile, can be considered the favorite for the league’s Young Player of the Year. Bound for La Liga’s Real Sociedad to start 2022, he numbered eight assists while dazzling with pace and creativity that has him on the radar of both the U.S. and Mexico national teams.
All offseasons are critical, but Cruz and company will have tough decisions to make with the core of LouCity’s roster growing ever older and Gomez leaving a major void at outside back.
Cruz, who in October was appointed the club’s permanent head coach, said after Saturday’s game that “my hope is that we remember this feeling going into next year and try to do a better job of closing out games and getting back to the trophies this club deserves.”
Louisville City FC, seconds away from exacting some Eastern Conference Final revenge Saturday night, instead fell to the Tampa Bay Rowdies for a second straight season in the USL Championship’s national semifinal round.
Super sub Lucky Mkosana’s header six minutes into second half stoppage time equalized, and the Rowdies went on to win by a 3-2 score in extra time at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“It’s difficult to lose that way, obviously,” said coach Danny Cruz. “I’m thankful to all of our fans that made the trip down. Sorry the game ended the way that it did. I’m extremely thankful to this group of players and everything they’ve given me this year. Obviously to lose the way we did, it’s going to hurt for a long time. There’s no doubt about it.”
It was a heartbreaking end to an otherwise successful season for LouCity, which raced out to a 2-0 halftime lead. Brian Ownby tapped in a 10th-minute Oscar Jimenez free kick, and Paolo DelPiccolo’s 24th-minute cross in from the left wing led to a Tampa Bay own goal to double the advantage.
From there, however, the visitors played on the back foot of a game in which they were out-shot 25-10 and out-possessed 57.3%-42.7%.
“It was great to get two goals in there, but I think we decided to let them have the ball too much at the end of the first half,” said defender Oscar Jimenez. “And then the whole second half, I thought we just stayed back and let them get comfortable having the ball. That’s really dangerous when you play a good team.”
Mkosana netted his first goal seconds after coming on, maximizing on a half clearance by the LouCity defense in the 83rd minute. Similarly, the boys in purple couldn’t thwart an extended Tampa Bay attack deep into stoppage time that led to an Mkosana header pulling Rowdies level.
Steevan Dos Santos delivered the game winner 102 minutes into a contest that sent Tampa Bay on to the Sunday, Nov. 28, USL Championship Final.
“We were defending well for a long time,” Jimenez said. “They had the ball. They had chances. But we were defending well. Sometimes it takes just one or two moments, and they capitalize. We weren’t tuned in on the back post — stuff like that.
“It’s football, man. It’s a final. It’s a tough one.”
That made a bitter end for City, in the midst of a seventh straight Eastern Conference Final bid in as many seasons. The Rowdies last year registered a 2-1 victory at this same stage of the season at Lynn Family Stadium.
The boys in purple had multiple chances to force penalties with Jimenez skimming one late shot over the bar before Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro stopped another.
So finished a season in which LouCity won the USL Championship’s Central Division, earning a top playoff seed on the campaign’s final weekend. The boys in purple prevailed by 1-0 scores in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal (Miami FC) and Semifinal (Charlotte Independence) rounds.
It will, however, be until at least 2022 that the club can look to add a much-desired third star over the crest following USL Championship titles in 2017 and 2018.
“I hope the players remember every single moment from shoveling snow in early (February) to now,” Cruz said. “We’ve been through a lot together, and when it ends this way, you certainly feel like it’s a gut punch. My hope is that we’ll remember this moment going into next year and certainly try to do a better job of closing out games and getting back to lifting trophies as this club deserves.”
Game Summary: Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Louisville City FC
Venue: Al Lang Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Man of the Match: Chris Hubbard
Louisville City FC: 10’ Brian Ownby (Oscar Jimenez)
Louisville City FC: 24’ Own Goal
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 85’ Lucky Mkosana
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 90’+ Lucky Mkosana (Forrest Lasso)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 102’ Steevan Dos Santos (Laurence Wyke)
Stats Summary: Tampa Bay Rowdies / Louisville City FC
Shots: 25 / 10
Shots on Goal: 10 / 4
Possession: 57.3% / 42.7%
Fouls: 14 / 14
Offside: 3 / 1
Corner Kicks: 16 / 7
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 1 — Evan Louro, 3 — Forrest Lasso, 22 — Jordan Doherty (62’ 21 — Dayonn Harris), 33 — Aaron Guillen, 11 — Leo Fernandes, 23 — Sebastian Dalgaard (81′ 77 — Lucky Mkosana), 27 — Laurence Wyke, 4 — Lewis Hilton, 9 — Juan Tejada (46’ 10 — Steevan Dos Santos), 13 — Sebastian Guenzatti, 7 — Yann Ekra
Subs not used: 16 — Max Lachowecki, 56 — Raiko Arozarena, 8 — Zach Steinberger, 17 — Jordan Adebayo-Smith
Head Coach: Neill Collins
Louisville City FC: 1 – Chris Hubbard, 42 – Jonathan Gomez (88’ 15 — Pat McMahon), 4 – Sean Totsch, 6 – Wes Charpie, 19 – Oscar Jimenez, 11 – Niall McCabe, 13 – Corben Bone (75’ 3 — Alexis Souahy), 36 – Paolo DelPiccolo (70’ 12 — Tyler Gibson), 10 – Brian Ownby (75’ 7 — Napo Matsoso), 9 – Jorge Gonzalez (104’ 29 — Antoine Hoppenot), 17 – Cameron Lancaster (75’ 21 — Kyle Greig)
Subs not used: 24 – Parker Siegfried
Head Coach: Danny Cruz
Louisville City FC: 5’ Brian Ownby (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 43’ Juan Tejada (yellow)
Louisville City FC: 55’ Jonathan Gomez (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 77’ Steevan Dos Santos (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 83’ Laurence Wyke (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 97’ Aaron Guillen (yellow)
Louisville City FC: 100’ Oscar Jimenez (yellow)
Referee: Lukasz Szpala
It’s a rematch more than a year in the making.
Louisville City FC will visit the Tampa Bay Rowdies for Saturday’s USL Championship Eastern Conference Final with memories still fresh from the last time these clubs met in the 2020 national semifinal game, a 2-1 defeat for the boys in purple at Lynn Family Stadium.
This season, the game is shifting to Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., and the winner will advance to host the Nov. 28 USL Championship Final.
Lynn Family Stadium has served as LouCity’s home fortress this season, but the club is looking to make the away environment as friendly as possible. More than 300 tickets were purchased for season ticket members, with many of those taking LouCity up on a free flight or bus travel option to the game.
Those making the trip will see a pair of sides in peak forms. City boasts a four-game winning streak, out-scoring opponents 6-1 over that span. The boys in purple have registered three straight 1-0 score lines — their longest run of clean sheets this season — and are now seeking the club’s fourth Eastern Conference crown after raising that trophy each season from 2017-2019.
The Rowdies, meanwhile, are looking for their second straight Eastern Conference title and the opportunity to take things a bit further after the 2020 final was canceled due to COVID-19 cases at Tampa Bay. Coach Neill Collins’ squad went 23-7-2 in the regular season, including 14-2-1 at Al Lang Stadium.
Here’s more of what to watch for in Saturday’s Eastern Conference Final showdown…
Head coach Danny Cruz says…
“Ultimately, it will give our player a boost to hear them,” he said of the traveling support. “It’ll give our players a boost as legs start to tire, having that extra jolt of energy. Obviously, it’s going be amazing for our fans to experience that as well. We’re excited that they’re going to be able to be there and hopefully share a special moment with the players.”
• For Starting XI and in-game updates, follow @loucityfc on Twitter and Louisville City FC on Facebook. Also find us at louisvillecityfc on Instagram. Live stats can be found at www.loucity.com/match-center.
• On the WBKI/TheCW and ESPN+ call: Joe Malfa (play-by-play) and Ricky Lopez-Espin (color).
• And for ESPN 680/105.7 on the radio: Jeff Greer and Casey Whitfield.
Notes to know
Playoff scenarios: Two down, two to go. With a win Saturday over Tampa Bay, the boys in purple would make a run at their third straight USL Championship Final. LouCity remains the only club to win it back to back, doing so in 2017 and 2018, and also appeared in the game in 2019. The Eastern Conference Final winner will host the advancing Western Conference Final team, either Orange County SC of San Antonio FC, with that game kicking off at 10 p.m. Saturday.
Bigger picture: According to the numbers at FiveThirtyEight.com, the two remaining playoff teams with the best chance of winning the title meet Saturday. The Rowdies are given a 44% chance of taking the USL Championship Final, while LouCity is given a 25% chance of putting a third star above its crest.
The streak lives: For seven straight seasons — every year LouCity has played — the club has advanced to the Eastern Conference Final even as the USL Championship has grown from 24 teams in 2015 to 30-plus now. The last time City went on the road for a conference final, it defeated rival Indy Eleven in dramatic fashion, equalizing in injury time before scoring twice in extra time with similarly strong away support.
Happy at home: Last weekend, LouCity welcomed 9,155 to Lynn Family Stadium, a club-record crowd for a home conference final. Accordingly, the boys in purple kept winning on their home turf. City has suffered just one defeat at home since capacity restrictions lifted in June and sport a +20 goal differential over that span.
On the touchline: Saturday’s match will feature two head coaches not far removed from their playing careers. Neill Collins leads the home side after 17 years as a pro, featuring for well-known English sides such as Sunderland, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leeds Unity before playing his final seasons in Tampa Bay. LouCity coach Danny Cruz played for a decade, including stints in Major League Soccer, before transitioning to coaching in 2018.
Consistent 11: Playing a condensed schedule and limited by a number of injuries this season, Cruz made changes to his lineups more often than not, with 23 of 24 rostered players making at least one start. However, for four straight games now Cruz has narrowed in on the same starters. Showing the clubs staying power, six of them were in the 2017 and 2018 title teams. Ten of 11 were part of last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Scoring kings: The top two remaining goal scorers the USL Championship Playoffs will go head to head Saturday night. Tampa Bay’s Sebastián Guenzatti bagged 21 regular season goals to rank second in the league, and Cameron Lancaster had 20 of his own. They trailed only Golden Boot winner Hadji Barry, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks SC star whose 25 regular season goals tied Lancaster’s 2018 single-season league scoring record.
Bagels again: A third consecutive clean sheet for goalkeeper Chris Hubbard on Saturday night marked LouCity’s longest shutout streak since a run of games between Aug. 18-25 that preceded the 2018 title. City has won its last three games by a margin of 1-0 and has only allowed five shots on target. Should Hubbard and the back line produce two more shutouts in their final two games, they would tie a team record for five straight clean sheets set in 2016.
Man of the Match: When discussing LouCity’s success in 2021, you’d be remiss not to mention winger Brian Ownby. He tallied a career-high 11 assists in his fifth season in purple — one off the USL Championship lead — and last Saturday earned Man of the Match honors in the conference semifinal win over Charlotte Independence. Ownby registered four key passes, four chances created and won three fouls on the night.
To the spot: If earning penalties counted as assists, defender Jonathan Gomez could add three more to his eight on the year. The left back has consistently pushed up in the attack, making life difficult for opposing defender. That included the Charlotte game, when his shifty footwork sent a player to the ground and led to an 87th-minute hand ball. Before Saturday, Gomez also earned penalties July 31 versus OKC Energy FC and Oct. 23 versus Memphis 901 FC.
From the spot: Lancaster has been the beneficiary of those whistles, plus earned a few penalties himself. And he’s made the most of opportunities, sinking seven of eight PK tries directly from the spot. The eighth was blocked, rebounded to Lancaster, and he scored that one too. The Englishman upped his career total this season to 71 goals, good for fourth on the USL Championship’s all-time list.
- Josh Wynder (Out)
- Sean Totsch is one appearance away from 150 Louisville City FC appearances.
All four home teams advanced on Saturday night in the conference semifinals of the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires.
Those results set up a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Louisville City FC, while in the Western Conference Final, Orange County SC and San Antonio FC will face each other for the first time in the postseason and vie for their first trip to the USL Championship Final.
The Rowdies continued the defense of their Eastern Conference title with a 1-0 win against Birmingham Legion FC at Al Lang Stadium as Yann Ekra’s second-half goal proved the difference in a game that saw the hosts record their 15th shutout of the season (Full Report | Box Score). Louisville City FC, meanwhile, earned a 1-0 win against the Charlotte Independence as Cameron Lancaster scored on a penalty kick in the 89th minute at Lynn Family Stadium (Full Report | Box Score).
The sides will now meet for a second consecutive postseason in the Eastern Conference Final, where the scene will shift this season to Tampa Bay’s Al Lang Stadium. In their prior encounter a year ago, the Rowdies claimed a 2-1 win against LouCity at Lynn Family Stadium to even the overall playoff series between the clubs at one win apiece.
Orange County advanced to the Western Conference Final for the second time in its history after defeating Oakland Roots SC 6-5 in a penalty shootout at Championship Soccer Stadium, with Ronaldo Damus scoring the decisive penalty kick. OCSC goalkeeper Patrick Rakovsky made a save to open the sixth round of the shootout, and Damus converted the next kick, giving the club-record crowd of 5,218 cause for celebrations (Full Report | Box Score).
The Southern California club will host San Antonio, which rode a pair of goals from Santiago Patino to a 3-1 victory against Rio Grande Valley FC at Toyota Field in the first postseason edition of the South Texas Derby (Full Report | Box Score). Nathan Fogaca also found the net for San Antonio, while Elvis Amoh converted a penalty kick midway through the second half for the Toros. SAFC advanced to its first Western Conference Final.
The spotlight now turns to Saturday, Nov. 20, which will feature a doubleheader of Conference Final action on ESPN+.
2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires
(All times Eastern; home team listed first)
Saturday’s Eastern Conference Final
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Louisville City FC, 7:30 p.m. ET, Al Lang Stadium (ESPN+)
Saturday’s Western Conference Final
Orange County SC vs. San Antonio FC, 10 p.m. ET, Championship Soccer Stadium (ESPN+)
Louisville City FC defeated the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night in a feisty USL Championship Eastern Conference Semifinal featuring 10 yellow cards and dangerous chances for both sides. The victory advanced the boys in purple to their seventh straight Eastern Conference final in as many seasons after Cameron Lancaster dramatically punched the ball into the top corner off a Jonathan Gomez-won penalty kick in the 89th minute.
While the Independence have never won in Louisville, dropping to 0-5-2 all time, Charlotte wasn’t a brush-aside team by any means. The visiting roster included former Leicester City and Premier League champion center back Christian Fuchs as well as striker Dane Kelly, the USL Championship’s all-time leading scorer. Charlotte entered having knocked out Memphis 901 FC in a first-round playoff game.
But with this victory, LouCity will travel to play the Tampa Bay Rowdies at 7:30 p.m. Saturday with a spot in the USL Championship Final on the line.
“This was a difficult game against a very good opponent,” head coach Danny Cruz said. “Ultimately, I thought we did enough to win. Every single week [the players] give me everything that they have. The preparation this week was excellent, and the opponent presented exactly the way we thought they would. We talked about advancing, and that’s what matters.”
Here’s more of what we learned…
Defense continues run of form
Against Charlotte, LouCity made it a third straight clean sheet for the first time all year in a season where the boys in purple have leaked goals late in halves. With shutouts against Birmingham Legion in the season finale, playoff first rounder versus Miami FC and now Charlotte, Cruz’s back unit has stepped up when it matters most. Starting goalkeeper was a question much of the season, but Chris Hubbard stepped up with three huge saves against Charlotte. Hubbard was also dominant coming out to get crosses and corners to minimize the Independence’s chances.
Though Charlotte took 10 shots against LouCity, only three of those attempts were on frame compared to LouCity’s five on target out of 13. LouCity’s aerial dominance kept Charlotte’s Kelly quiet throughout the game. City center backs Sean Totsch and Wes Charpie won 90% of their aerial duels on average opposed to Charlotte center-backs’ 37%.
LouCity outside back Jonathan Gomez and Man of the Match winger Brian Ownby led the team in tackles, tallying two apiece. Gomez and Totsch topped interception stats for the night with a pair each.
Defensive-minded players such as Tyler Gibson, Pat McMahon, and Napo Matsoso came into the game to hold onto the clean sheet, with Matsoso getting his first minutes since he was injured back on Oct. 16.
In addition to his game-winning penalty, Lancaster registered four shots against Charlotte, tied for the most on the pitch. His 21 goals on the season are level for third in the USL with Memphis’ Kyle Murphy. Lancaster isn’t far off this season’s top scorer Hadji Barry (25), whose team fell in the first round of the playoffs to Orange County. Lancaster will go head to head next weekend with Tampa Bay’s Sebastian Guenzatti, second in scoring across the USL Championship with 22 goals. Impressively, Lancaster has put up phenomenal numbers despite missing seven games due to injury.
Lancaster has scored in 16 LouCity games so far this season, with four of those being multi-goal matches. The Englishman is also the only the second player in the USL Championship to ever record two 20-plus goal seasons. His other came in 2018 when he scored 26 and claimed the league’s Golden Boot.
“If there was a camera zoomed in on my face, I would be repeating, ‘This is what you do, Cam,’” Cruz said of his reaction to Lancaster’s late try from the spot. “I saw him all week take penalties. He’s confident anytime he steps up to the spot.”
What we learned
LouCity’s test against Miami FC last weekend seemed beneficial to the club’s play against Charlotte. The boys in purple looked to absorb pressure better after Miami FC came out strong last weekend.
Looking ahead, the Tampa Bay Rowdies present the biggest challenge of the season yet. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Rowdies now boast a 43% chance of hoisting the USL trophy versus LouCity’s 25%.
A win at Tampa Bay would send City to the finals with a good shot of adding a third star to its crest, especially considering top Western Conference seeds El Paso Locomotive and Phoenix Rising were knocked out in the first round of playoffs. An in-form defensive crew certainly helps LouCity going to Tampa Bay.
LouCity’s squad health is looking better than ever, with only young center back Josh Wynder held out of Saturday’s game. Matsoso’s return is important, as he’s a versatile midfielder
“We can’t undervalue how great our fans are and we won’t have our same full stadium,” Paolo DelPiccolo said about playing away next weekend. “At the same time, luckily, Tampa Bay has a proper field, which isn’t always the case, so it’ll be a good game and they’re a great team. For us, it’s just a normal challenge of playing a good opponent.”
Cameron Lancaster came up in the clutch Saturday for Louisville City FC, drilling an 89th-minute penalty kick to send the club on to yet another USL Championship Eastern Conference Final appearance.
The boys in purple prevailed by a 1-0 score over the Charlotte Independence at Lynn Family Stadium, setting up a rematch of the 2020 conference final. It’ll be a 7:30 p.m. kickoff next Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium.
Left back Jonathan Gomez led to the game-winning moment while working on the edge of Charlotte’s box. The Independence’s Joel Johnson went for a sliding tackle, and rather than contact the ball with his foot, it bounced off his trailing arm.
Seconds later, Lancaster stepped up with a thundering strike to mark his team-leading 21st goal across all competitions this season.
“If there was a camera zoomed in on my face, I was repeating over and over again, ‘Cam, this is what you do. Cam, this is what you do.’ Because it is,” said head coach Danny Cruz. “I saw him all week take penalties. He is confident anytime he steps up to the spot.”
“It’s the playoffs,” added LouCity captain Paolo DelPiccolo, “and we’ve got this awesome stadium that keeps the noise, and the fans are going. So for us it’s a really uplifting feeling and it gives us the energy we need. No one gets tired out there. It’s a really awesome experience playing here.”
As a result, LouCity will vie for its seventh conference final in as many seasons since starting play in 2015. The club is a win away from a third Eastern Conference crown and has won two USL Championship titles, going back to back in 2017 and 2018.
“You don’t see that all around the world — that is for sure,” Cruz said of the appearance streak. “I think it is a testament to the organization, to everything that everybody does here at Louisville City every day. That is from the back office to the players. It is the collective goal that the entire club has. To be able to do that year in and year out is certainly special.
“I am proud to be the manager of this team. I am proud to be the manager for this club and there won’t be a day that I take that for granted.”
Lancaster’s conversation capped a night of close chances but no finishing touch for LouCity, which tried all 13 of its shots from inside the box. Five landed on target, four others were blocked, and the home side in the process controlled 55.1% of possession.
A crowd of 9,155 — a LouCity record for a home conference semifinal — hung on every moment. Those included a nice 33rd-minute sequence that saw Lancaster slide a shot just wide of the post; a 57th-minute DelPiccolo flick that commanded a save; and point-blank Jorge Gonzalez shot also turned away in the 65th minute.
At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Chris Hubbard delivered in every moment, making five saves and punching away two other Charlotte chances. The clean sheet was LouCity’s season-high third straight with this also the club’s third consecutive 1-0 score line.
LouCity’s one of four clubs left playing in the USL Championship — along with Tampa Bay, which defeated the boys in purple in last year’s Eastern Conference Final.
“I’ve watched them play quite a few times this year only because they’ve been doing well,” DelPiccolo said of next weekend’s foe. “Obviously they’re a good team and they’ve got good players through and through. So, for us it’s just another challenge.”
“It’s an opportunity to play for a trophy,” Cruz added. “That is what this group has done year in and year out. This is just another opportunity. We understand the stakes. We understand what it takes to accomplish that. I am confident in the group of guys that I have in there.”
Regardless of the Western Conference Final’s result, the LouCity-Tampa Bay winner will host the USL Championship Final at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28.
Game Summary: Louisville City FC vs. Charlotte Independence
Date: Nov. 13, 2021
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Weather: 37 degrees, clear
Man of the Match: Brian Ownby
Louisville City FC (0, 1, 1)
Charlotte Independence (0, 0, 0)
Louisville City FC:
89’ Cameron Lancaster (pen)
Louisville City FC: 1 – Chris Hubbard, 19 – Oscar Jimenez, 4 – Sean Totsch, 6 – Wesley Charpie, 42 – Jonathan Gomez, 13 – Corben Bone (85’ 7 – Napo Matsoso), 11 – Niall McCabe (71’ 29 – Antoine Hoppenot), 36 – Paolo DelPiccolo (71’ 12 – Tyler Gibson), 10 – Brian Ownby, 9 – Jorge Gonzalez Asensi (90’ 15 – Pat McMahon), 17 – Cameron Lancaster (90’ 21 – Kyle Greig)
Subs not used: 1 – Parker Siegfried, 20 – Jimmy McLaughlin
Head Coach: Danny Cruz
Charlotte Independence: 1 – Austin Pack, 2 – Kevin Riascos (90’ 8 – Marcelo Palomino), 3 – Hugh Roberts, 22 – Christian Fuchs, 4 – Jake Areman, 7 – Joel Johnson (90’ 16 – Jose Bizama), 13 – Brandt Bronico, 32 – Gabriel Obertan (34’ 9 – Irvin Parra), 56 – Sylvian Marveaux, 19 – Enzo Martinez, 29 – Dane Kelly
Subs not used: 33 – Brandon Miller, 10 – Valentin Sabella, 12 – Adam Armour, 88 – Christian Dean
Head Coach: Mike Jeffries
Stats Summary: Louisville City FC / Charlotte Independence
Shots: 13 / 10
Shots on Goal: 5 / 3
Possession: 55.1% / 44.9%
Fouls: 14 / 25
Offside: 0 / 4
Corner Kicks: 4 / 5
Louisville City FC
5’ Paolo DelPiccolo (yellow card)
21’ Brian Ownby (yellow card)
43’ Niall McCabe (yellow card)
35’ Dane Kelly (yellow card)
44’ Irvin Parra (yellow card)
76’ Kevin Riascos (yellow card)
88’ Enzo Martinez (yellow card)
88’ Austin Pack (yellow card)
90’ Christian Fuchs (yellow card)
90’+ Joel Johnson (red card)
Referee: Elijio Arreguin
As Louisville City FC head coach Danny Cruz said after last weekend’s opening-round USL Championship Playoffs victory, “the whole point is to move on” this time of year.
The boys in purple will look to do just that again when hosting the Charlotte Independence for an Eastern Conference Semifinal that kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday inside Lynn Family Stadium.
With a victory, LouCity would go on to its seventh Eastern Conference Final appearance in as many seasons against the winner of Birmingham Legion FC at the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
City rides in on a three-game winning streak having out-scored recent opponents 5-1. The run includes consecutive clean sheets in critical games, first an Oct. 30 victory over Birmingham that clinched a No. 1 playoff seed before another shutout win over Miami FC last Saturday to start the postseason.
Charlotte could consider itself in even better form amid its first playoff appearance. The Independence are 11-1-1 in their last 13 games and boast plenty of talent, including the USL Championship’s all-time leading scorer, Dane Kelly, and Christian Fuchs, who was part of Leicester City’s English Premier League champion side in 2015-2016.
LouCity and Charlotte last met in 2019. The Independence have never won in Louisville, going 0-4-2 here over the years.
With the USL Championship Playoffs down to their final eight teams, here’s what to watch for Saturday…
Head coach Danny Cruz says…
“The most enjoyable part about working with this group is that day in and day out they bring the right mentality, they bring the right fight and they execute the ideas. Not much has changed, other than we know we have a very good opponent coming in for a game that you have to win to advance.”
• For Starting XI and in-game updates, follow @loucityfc on Twitter and Louisville City FC on Facebook. Also find us at louisvillecityfc on Instagram. Live stats can be found at www.loucity.com/match-center.
• On the WBKI/TheCW and ESPN+ call: Mike Watts (play-by-play) and Gary Bailey (color).
• And for ESPN 680/105.7 on the radio: Dylan Terry and Casey Whitfield.
Notes to know
Playoff scenarios: Should the boys in purple defeat Charlotte, they would be in line to travel to Tampa Bay, the Atlantic Division’s No. 1 seed, or host Birmingham, the Central Division’s No. 2, pending results of the league’s other Eastern Conference Semifinal. Both top seeds in the West were already upset, meaning the Eastern Conference champ will host the final at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28.
Bigger picture: Along with the benefits of a potential home USL Championship Final, results in the Western Conference have boosted LouCity’s overall chances of winning the title. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the boys in purple have a 19% chance to put a third star over their crest this fall, making them the second choice behind Tampa Bay’s 33%.
What are the odds: The USL Championship Playoffs are presented by TwinSpires Sportsbook, which has accordingly listed betting prices for remaining teams: Tampa Bay (+5160), LouCity, (+500), San Antonio FC (+750), Birmingham (+800), Orange County SC (+1000), Rio Grande Valley FC (+1400) and Oakland Roots SC (+3300).
Home fortress: Last Saturday’s crowd of 9,097 set a new record for a LouCity playoff opener, eclipsing the 8,517 who saw the club’s first-ever postseason game back in 2015. The boys in purple continued rolling in front of their home fans, too, improving to 14-2-2 there this year. LouCity has lost just once at Lynn Family Stadium since capacity restrictions lifted in June and sport a +19 goal differential over that span.
Scoring kings: Two of the USL Championship’s most prolific goal scorers will face off Saturday with Charlotte’s Dane Kelly first all-time with 99 regular season tallies. On the LouCity side, Cameron Lancaster has upped his tally to 71, good for fourth on the list, with his second career 20-goal campaign in 2021.
Bagels again: For just the second time this year, LouCity’s defense and goalkeeper Chris Hubbard are on a clean sheet streak. The club has posted consecutive 1-0 victories between Birmingham and Miami FC results. Versus Legion FC, the boys in purple didn’t concede a single shot on target. Miami managed just one on its visit to Louisville.
Consistent 11: Playing a condensed schedule and limited by a number of injuries this season, coach Danny Cruz made changes to his lineups more often than not, with 23 of 24 rostered players making at least one start. However, for three straight games Cruz has narrowed in on the same lineup including six players who played a part in winning 2017 and 2018 USL Championship titles. Ten of the 11 were part of last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Jorge the hero: As for the newcomer to the lineup? Forward Jorge Gonzalez — on loan from Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers — only went out and scored LouCity’s game-winning goal with a 74th-minute strike against Miami FC. It marked his fourth goal across all competitions as the club’s No. 9, proving an attacking threat after missing most of the season’s first half with an injury.
Full strength City: The injury woes are ideally behind Cruz’s squad with every rostered player available for selection Saturday. That’s something the club hasn’t been able to say all year. Of last weekend’s group, three starters — Gonzalez, Corben Bone and Oscar Jimenez – recuperated from long-term ailments. Newly back in the rotation is midfielder Napo Matsoso, who had to be carried off the field late in an Oct. 16 game at Indy Eleven.
- Sean Totsch is two appearances away from 150 Louisville City FC appearances.