If you had asked Louisville City fans before the start of the inaugural season how they would feel about going to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in two years, they would have gladly taken it. That doesn’t bring much comfort right now.
For the second time in two seasons, Louisville City falls just short of playing for the league title, as they fell 1-1 (4-3 on penalty kicks) to NYRBII on Sunday night at Red Bull Arena. It marked the fifth time in as many matches that the boys in purple fell to the Sugar Free Red Bulls, and it was by far the most painful of them all.
Louisville City, after struggling to get into the match for the first five minutes or so, absolutely dominated most of the first half, as they held possession and strung together some great passes. They took a deserved lead in the 11th minute, when a free kick from Aodhan Quinn found Paco Craig in the penalty area, and he nodded home to put City ahead 1-0. It was one of three great chances for Craig on the night, but the only one that he was able to convert. Louisville City had other chances in the first half but were unable to convert, none more painful than the whiffed header by George Davis IV on a brilliant ball from Quinn. As they prevented NYRBII from so much as taking a shot until late in the half, it was very concerning that they took only a 1-0 lead into the break.
The second half started poorly for City, as Greg Ranjitsingh suffered a groin injury early on and had to be replaced by Tim Dobrowolski, making only his second appearance on the season. For all the dominance and possession they exhibited in the first half, none of that was present after the break. Whether it was LCFC sitting back and defending a lead, or the Red Bulls making adjustments, the home side was able to gain confidence and they leveled in the 74th minute. Yet again, it was a free kick that led to the goal, as Vincent Bezecourt sent in a long free kick and found an unmarked Florian Valot, who headed across goal and into the far corner of the goal.
City had numerous chances to get their second goal, as Davis IV missed a cut-back that he pulled past the near post, and Craig headed wide from point-blank range just before stoppage time. It was an uncharacteristically rough night for Davis IV, as his two missed chances, combined with the fact that it was his unnecessary foul that led to the NYRBII goal, were what he will take away from this match.
In extra time, things got a bit chippy. Sean Reynolds was sent off at the end of the first half of regulation, after a lunging two-footed challenge following a turnover in the defensive end. It did not seem malicious, as it appeared he simply panicked and was trying to block the attacking player from kicking the ball, but it was reckless and deserved the booking. Then, the favor was returned when a NYRBII defender pulled down Cameron Lancaster on the break, wisely, to prevent a possible goal with less than three minutes remaining in extra time. Finally, the ref brandished a red for the third time, as he showed Craig a second yellow card on an aerial challenge.
The penalty shootout did not go well at all for LCFC, as Lancaster’s attempt to start the shootout was saved, and the fifth and final shot from Ben Newnam was tipped onto the bar and kept out, sending NYRBII into the USL Cup final on a 4-3 PK victory.
For the second straight season, our boys finish one match short of playing for the USL Cup, and this one is more painful than the last one. However, it was a terrific season, and the guys should hold their heads high as they return home today. Their flights will land at 11:30 and 1:15, and if you’re able to we encourage you to meet them at the airport and greet them, as no matter how bad we feel this morning, they are hurting even more.
No matter what happens with player movement and changes, this team was fun to watch all year long, and they really loved playing together. Hopefully the majority of the squad will return for 2017, as we now begin that painful six-month wait for the next time we can march into Slugger Field.