I think at this point we’ve all had enough time to digest the loss last Saturday that we should be able to take some perspective on the season that was for Louisville City FC. For some, Elsie was your first ever live soccer experience – you came to Slugger Field not knowing what to expect, maybe not even what was happening on the field. For others, it was the culmination of a lot of work, or longing, or exasperation that finally came about in what turned out to be almost the best possible way.
Anyone who says they thought the first season for the Royals would turn out as it did before a ball is kicked is lying to you. Going into the season, I had no idea what to expect.
Rookie head coach, rookie front office, and a fair spate of rookie players with notable exceptions. All I really wanted was for the season to start, the games to be fun, and for us to have a shot at the playoffs.
And this team delivered. After winning the opener against St. Louis FC, City had some jitters over the next few games that included three draws in a row (one of which we stole from Pittsburgh on a rocket from Kadeem Dacres). Then, the “What So Proudly We Hailed” happened and I think it’s fair to say that was the point we realized we had something special here in Louisville. Just under 5,000 people were there for that game (me, my dad, and my oldest son included) and watched while a teenage girl sang through a storm of marble-sized hail covered the field, then saw City beat Tulsa 2-0 in the cold and rain to stop the winless streak. If you were there, you’ll never forget it.
City dropped the next match on the road in Charlotte, but then the figured out how to really score. The Purples put together a tear that saw us score 13 goals in five league games, while winning our first two U.S. Open Cup games away including a 2-0 ET defeat of NASL side Indy Eleven before burning out against Chicago Fire in extra time.
Things got a little bumpy after that, probably thanks to tired legs, as City dropped the next two matches, but then they scored six against eventual Western Conference champions Oklahoma City FC and put 3 on Richmond on the Fourth of July while making sure Mike Callahan knew we’d gladly kick him down a flight of stairs for busting Guy Abend’s knee earlier in the season. The boys proved they could win on the road, running through Wilmington and Toronto and then Fondy scoring his first-ever Matt Trick against hapless Harrisburg.
After the last home game against the City Islanders where Fondy scored three more, we hit a bit of a late season schnide. We lost to St. Louis for the first time to close the season, but won the Kings’ Cup. We’d taken second place in the conference, scoring more goals than anyone else thanks in large part to our Golden Boot winner with the flowing locks, but we’d stubbed our toe on the way there.
Then, we played our best game yet in a 2-0 playoff win over Charleston. It was awesome. We hoped for a Red Bulls II upset of Rochester because then we would get to party in Slugger again, but it wasn’t to be, and then Rochester Rochestered while City didn’t exactly City and now we’re here.
There’s a lot to be proud of. The supporters’ section went from a few of us Coopers trying to see how that was even going to work to probably the best supporters’ section in the whole league. We’ve got guys in kilts, a cancer-research frenzied King and his Heretical friends, a luchador, a purple Santa with a mohawk, Black Sheep, Teletubbies, Wario, guys in coonskin caps who love Daniel Boone and cornbread, a naked Spider Man, some Braveheart warriors who like to make awesome beer in their free time, some dead-horseman Ultras, and new ideas and characters come about every day. This has gotten to be so much fun, and it’s so much more than I ever thought it could be. More importantly, it can be even better.
Yes, things are already changing. Bryan Burke, probably our most talented player, is going to move on. Having spent some time over the last couple years watching this league, we’re probably going to lose some more players we loved. We’re understandably nervous about whether we can hang on to a deserving candidate for Coach of the Year. But on the bright side, stadium talks are happening a lot faster than we could have hoped, and there’s so much buzz and excitement about soccer and how Louisville continues to embrace the team and the sport that bigger things seem inevitable.
It was a great first season. I can’t wait for an even better second one.
COME ON, CITY.