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Wednesday Early Afternoon Centerback: USL Cup Final Edition

EDITOR’S NOTE: I went back and re-read my “We did it.” post I wrote a couple hours after LouCity hoisted the USL Cup trophy in the air umpteen times on Monday night. My sentiments haven’t changed, but I noted that I wasn’t inclusive enough. You certainly don’t have to be a Cooper to have enjoyed the run to the Cup, or to have been a part of it, or to have contributed in an number of ways to what the club and the game-day experience has become. We’re all a part of it, we all contribute, we’re all in this together, from the Heretics/Heretykes/Etc to Jordan and Jay and The Final Judgment cast to the Tailgaters and the Teletubbies and the Count; the list goes on. My point is, sorry for being so Coopers-centric, even though this website is literally called “louisvillecoopers.com.” On to soccer-y stuff:

Despite what newly-minted HOT TAKE sayer Kate Markgraf might have you believe, that was a good soccer game on Monday night. Yes, the field was still an issue. There were at least two instances where Luke Spencer and Brian Ownby lost the ball under their feet because of the new sod that the club put down in the infield. It’s just a new variation on an old theme: trying to play soccer on the infield of a baseball diamond produces yakkety-sax play sometimes. We all know it’s a sub-par situation, but it’s OUR team that has to play on it, and we make do in the form of silverware.

But back to the game itself. It was good. Swope clearly saw the Rochester game film and came out trying to replicate the Rhinos’ high pressure (RIP, Rhinos!), force-the-ball-into-the-center tactic. It’s a good idea, of course, but it helps to have Bob Lilley and the Rhinos roster to execute it. Swope Park has neither, and LouCity managed to enforce their will onto the game fairly quickly. Swope tried shutting down the wings and keeping the ball in the middle of the park by closely marking Oscar and Kyle Smith. However, all that did was open up space for Brian Ownby to run down balls from either Sean Totsch, Paolo DelPiccolo, or Speedy Williams out of the back. Paolo and Speedy both had career games disrupting Swope in midfield possession all night. Their play ruined the SPR game plan, let Oscar and Smith stay wider than Rangers wanted, and that’s largely why LouCity won. Paolo played the best I’ve ever seen him play, and I’ve got zero problem giving him the MVP award for the match.

I’m occasionally critical of O’Connor’s substitution patterns, but in this game, they’re the reason we scored the game’s only goal. Brian Ownby hasn’t gone a full 90 all season, so we knew he’d go out sometime around 60′ or 70′. The question was who would fill in, Richard Ballard or Mark-Anthony Kaye? I omit Niall McCabe only because whoever the sub would be would need to have some vertical pace, and Ballard and Kaye fit that bill better than McCabe does. And putting on a pacy substitute would only further wear down an already worn-down Swope Park back line. Kaye was the choice, and his ability to keep the ball and defend from the front was the right one.

Even better, though, was Cam Lancaster. Again, a guy who is going to make the centerbacks run and track him. Cam scored the goal, but he couldn’t have asked for a better setup than the one Luke Spencer provided him with. Luke was hell on wheels for the SPR defense all night. He only had two shots and sixteen touches all night, but he bodied up Parker Maher and Amer Didic for every aerial ball like a battering ram for all of his 67 minutes. His work combined with Lancaster’s speed and a dead-perfect cross from Speedy Williams combined to account for some less-than-great marking by Swope on Lancaster’s quick move to get open for that headed goal. Awesome stuff.

Numbers-wise, there’s not a lot to note. LouCity actually out-passed and out-possessed SPR in this game, though the completion percentages in the opposing halves weren’t great for either team. Swope kinda-sorta tried to get chances on counter attacks to some decent effect, but some disciplined play from the centerbacks and the short field helped snuff out most of those. The ones that weren’t snuffed were handled ably by Greg Ranjitsingh.

Of course, they made us squirm for about ten more minutes than we wanted, giving up free kicks in stupid areas, and throwing Zendejas in the mix on corners and set plays made me nervous, but we got it done. It was awesome. So take a step back, enjoy this, and dig in for what’s sure to be an insane offseason ride with lawsuits, player transactions, clubs opening and closing up shop, a USSF presidential election, and heaven knows what else. No matter what happens, we’re champions.