A recent post on the Louisville City FC subreddit linked to the website Transfermarkt, a soccer information site that has incredibly detailed statistical information for nearly every club and player in the world. One of the most interesting features of the site is the “market values” that are estimated for every player and club.
USL clubs do not generally publicize player contracts or transfer fees. However, Transfermarkt’s valuations may be some of the closer estimates we have regarding payroll within the league. If you look at how the website valued USL teams as of October 15, 2017, near the end of the regular season, Louisville City was ranked dead last.
(Note: Pay no attention to the wildly inflated figures at which Transfermarkt valuates players. The website is based out of Germany, and clearly they have NO IDEA how ridiculously underpaid lower division American soccer players are. However, since they are wildly overestimating everyone equally, then the site still holds value as a comparative tool).
The club with the estimated lowest priced roster in the entire league won the USL Cup.
How is it possible for a team with a modest budget to perform at such a high level from the very beginning? The answer is easy, but it bears repeating: Coach James O’Connor.
When it comes to scouting and evaluating players, JOC is on another level from the rest of the coaches in the league. He has consistently found high quality players where other coaches wouldn’t even bother to look.
Plenty of LCFC players were known commodities prior to joining the club. Brian Ownby had MLS experience. Sean Totsch and Speedy Williams were key players on teams who won USL Cups. George Davis IV had been a solid USL player for several years.
Many more LC players, however, were unknown, seemingly off the radar of everyone except for O’Connor.
Oscar Jimenez was playing semi-pro soccer in Mississippi when he was discovered in an open tryout. In 2017 he played in every game and led the team in minutes played.
Kyle Smith was also discovered in an open tryout. At the time he was working as an accountant. He is now one of the best wingers in the USL.
Niall McCabe,Ilija Ilic, and Paco Craig were brought in from Young Harris College, a tiny Division II school in north Georgia. McCabe and Ilic have been consistent contributors in all three seasons. Craig was named USL Best XI in 2017.
Luke Spencer played 64 minutes in one season for FC Cincinnati before being signed by O’Connor in 2017, where he promptly became a double digit goalscorer.
Greg Ranjitsingh had a solid collegiate career at Mercer, but certainly didn’t have many professional teams banging on his door when O’Connor invited him to preseason camp in 2015. As of 2017, Ranjitsingh receives regular call ups to the Trinidad & Tobago National Team, and is recognized as one of the great goalkeepers in the USL, not to mention single handedly saving Louisville City from defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals against NYRBII.
Cameron Lancaster began his career at Tottenham Hotspur, featuring in one Premier League game before his before his career in England was derailed by a series of major injuries. He was playing in the English 6th Division when O’Connor came calling. In November, he scored the game winning goal in the 88th minute of the USL Cup.
Even the legendary Matt Fondy hadn’t scored more than 10 goals in a professional season before joining Louisville City in 2015, where he scored 23 goals, setting the single season goal scoring mark and earning USL Player of the Year honors. (Please bring back Matt Fondy).
I could go on, but the point is, James O’Connor has an unparalleled eye for talent. As we know, assembling a roster stacked with quality does not always translate into results on the field, as City’s two biggest rivals can attest. O’Connor, however, has made it look easy from day one, as Louisville City has compiled the best cumulative record in the USL over the past three seasons.
What is even more remarkable than his knack for finding players is that he doesn’t need that many of them. Louisville City had one of the smallest rosters in USL last season, consisting of only 17 field players.
That meant that every player on the roster was called upon to contribute in a significant fashion during the championship season, and this was borne out in a remarkable and underappreciated statistic from the 2017 season: Louisville City FC was likely the first known professional team in history where every single field player who stepped on the field scored a goal in a single season (thanks to Jordan Cooper for doing a lot of the leg work attempting to verify that stat). Beyond that, 15 of the 17 field players tallied at least one assist, a remarkable statistic in its own right.
You can’t help but gasp at these numbers. It is impossible to convey just how dominant and impressive the performance of these James O’Connor led teams has been.
Louisville City fans already know how great O’Connor is, and haven’t been shy about showing their affection. LC ownership knows how impressive he has been, signing him to a contract through the 2020 season last spring. And it’s clear that his players enjoy playing for him, as the vast majority of the roster from last year appears to be returning.
It’s only a matter of time before a suitor comes calling for Coach O’Connor. I don’t doubt for one second JOC’s commitment to Louisville City, but it seems likely that at some point he will step up to an even bigger challenge. Believe it or not, he’s just at the very beginning of what is sure to be a long and remarkable managerial career.
In the meantime, though, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the fact that our club has only ever had one manager in our brief existence, and he just happens to be the greatest manager in lower division American soccer. Even though our “market value” may be dead last in USL according to some, there is now a star above our crest, and James O’Connor’s Louisville City FC have set the bar for all others to reach.
Coach James O’Connor! He is an Irishman,
He wears a funny hat, that’s known throughout the land.
He played for Sheffield Wednesday, but now he is our man.
We’ll sing this song again!