I’m drinking beer as I write this, which isn’t unusual, but still, this may get a little emotional.
Last home match, coming off short rest, starting a new lineup against a team with everything to play for. Sounds like a recipe for an upset, right? Not tonight!
James O’Connor put out a new and interesting lineup with Ilija Ilic playing the #10 role with MAG RAM out wide on the right, while Sean Reynolds again deputized for the injured Conor Shanosky. Guy Abend also started for a suspended Juan Guzman, who frankly could probably have used the rest. Meanwhile, Harrisburg started their best XI in a bid to make the playoffs.
However, in the opening 10 minutes, the City Islanders might as well not have shown up at all. Louisville City dominated possession. It was fairly clear that O’Connor wanted the Royals to grab an early goal, and City earned five corner kicks before the clock even turned to 10, though only one shot on goal came of it. Harrisburg settled in a little more after that stanza, but City may have lulled them to sleep. After granting the Islanders a few muted forays into Scott Goodwin’s penalty area, Magnus Rasmussen won a turnover in midfield in the 19th minute, passed the ball toward midfield to Ilija Ilic, who took two touches before playing the ball back to MAG RAM. Rasmussen one-timed a perfect pass in front of the Harrisburg goal that Matt Fondy calmly put away for his 19th goal of the season.
I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the best team goal I’ve ever seen Louisville City ever produce, first season ever notwithstanding. Pep Guardiola would probably approve of that one. It was beautiful, and it was awesome.
After that, Louisville smelled blood in the water and poured on more pressure. Harrisburg tried to calm down and play the ball out of the back, but City quickly regained possession. As Harrisburg’s Ken Tribbett tried to dispossess MAG RAM on the right side in the 22nd minute, Tribbett inadvertently passed the ball toward his own goal, and Matt Fondy quickly got on the ball, juked the Islanders keeper, and picked up a brace for the game, his 20th of the season, and a tie for the USL single season goal scoring record.
Louisville sat back a little bit more after their second goal, and Harrisburg earned a few key fouls, but couldn’t put any of them on frame. Niall McCabe got on a great through pass in the 36th minute but couldn’t loft it over the keeper. Early in the 39th minute, Fondy almost picked up an assist on a great run down the right and a cross into the box to Ilic, who appeared to be taken down in the 6 yard box, but the referee signaled play on.
Fondy quickly made the Islanders pay, though, as Bryan Burke played an inch-perfect pass from Harrisburg’s half to about five yards out from the D in front of Harrisburg’s goal. Fondy timed his run perfectly, brought the ball down, and rifled the ball into the back of the net for a first half hat-trick and the USL scoring record.
Harrisburg’s Jason Plumhoff finally gave the City Islanders a shot on goal in the dying minutes of the first half, but the whistle blew and the scoreboard was 3-0 good guys.
The second half was a little less eventful, though it might have been otherwise. Harrisburg finally started moving the City defense around enough to take some shots, but MAG RAM and Ilija Ilic probably dented the Harrisburg goal post, they hit it so many times. Finally, in the dying minutes of the game, Bryan Burke made another one of his patented runs down the right, crossed the ball into the 6 yard box that Ilic finally put past the keeper for his first ever Louisville City goal. It was well deserved, as Ilic had played his best game in a purple shirt that I can remember.
While the fourth official indicated there would be just one minute of additional time, the center referee disagreed and seemingly let Harrisburg have a few more chances to score, but finally blew the whistle after a failed free kick and the Royals took away a clean sheet and all three points.
Other notes and observations:
- Sean Reynolds has done really well at centerback in Shanosky’s absence.
- I thought Abend played well, but he got shoved off the ball a few more times than I’d like. Still, solid performance in central midfield from him and Aodhan Quinn.
- When Shanosky came on, I thought it was cool that Tarek Morad got to play some defensive midfield, and was even more impressed that he’s very good there. Something to keep an eye on should we get some depth in the back next season.
- Again, Ilic gets a lot of grief, but he played awesome tonight. I don’t think that means he replaces Magnussen in the middle of the attacking midfield, but he showed he’s better than we might have thought before. That goal will hopefully do wonders for his confidence.
- City had 21 shots on the night, 9 on goal, and 3 of the 4 goals were assisted. Kick ass.
- Of course, with the win, Louisville City clinches a playoff spot. Here’s hoping we pick up a few more points to solidify second overall in the league!