Heading into the 2020 USL season, fans of Louisville City FC were excited and optimistic. Their 2019 season ended with a third consecutive appearance in the USL Cup Final, with most of the starting lineup returning to the team. 2020 was also set to be the year that they would begin play in their brand-new facility, Lynn Family Stadium. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the coronavirus forced the team into a holding pattern after only one game. Play did eventually resume, however, there we many concessions needed to do so safely. The season was abbreviated and conducted in a group format, regular starter Magnus Rassmussen mutually ended his contract with the club for the season to remain in Europe with his young family during the pandemic, and worse of all for the fans, they restricted attendance. While this adversity and a slow return to form after the restart put a bit of a damper on what was supposed to be a historic season for the club, the team’s on-field performance did rekindle much of the enthusiasm felt at the start of the season.
Despite starting the season with a win on the road, Lou City found themselves in a bit of hot water early in the season. After the COVID-19 lockdown in mid-June, City lost three of their first four matches. That included the inaugural match at Lynn Family Stadium, which ended in a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. As of August 5th, FiveThirtyEight gave Louisville City a 36% chance to make the playoffs. For a team that had never failed to make the conference finals, they were on course to have a historically horrible year by a wide margin. To make matters worse, regular starter, Niall McCabe sustained an injury that would keep him sidelined for most of the season, and the team’s rivals to the north, Indy Eleven, were on a roll.
On August 8th, top of the group, Indy Eleven came to Louisville. Given their current form, there was a lack of confidence from the fan base heading into the match. It would end up becoming a notable turning point for the club. Lou City held Indy to a 1-1 draw and limited their prolific scorer, Tyler Pasher, to only one goal. There had been some experimentation in the matches leading up to this encounter with Coach John Hackworth’s 4-3-3 formation, but it was this match in which his team selection and vision of play began to work. The most notable change was the move of Napo Matsoso from his usual midfield role up to a winger. His phenomenal ball skills and work rate helped to give the attack some teeth that they had been lacking.
In Louisville City’s next match, they secured a much-needed win against Loudoun United, further building confidence. This was followed by a 4-1 thrashing of Sporting Kansas City 2. From that point on, the dominant Lou City of old had returned. Between August 15th and October 3rd (the end of the regular season), Louisville City went 9-0-2. Including the Indy draw on August 8th, it was a streak of 12 matches unbeaten. During this streak, the squad climbed back to the top of the group. Building from the Indy draw in early August, Lou City beat Indy twice in September, outscoring them 5-1 between the two matches. Those two key victories along with fending off Saint Louis helped City to secure the top spot in the group by the end of the regular season. Quite the turnaround from earlier in the season!
Louisville City entered the playoffs with momentum on their side. Having won Group E, Lou City was set to take on the second-place team in Group F. For most of the season, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds had firm control of the group followed by Hartford Athletic. Down the stretch, Hartford pulled ahead and secured first in the group, meaning City’s first-round match would be a heavy-weight battle against Pittsburgh. Having grown since the previous encounter, Louisville City was able to see off the challenging Riverhounds with a 2-0 victory. The next round would see the Morados taking on Saint Louis, who had secured an upset win over Hartford. The final Kings’ Cup (RIP STL) ended with Lou City earning the win and moving on to their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference Final.
It was down to a matchup between Louisville City and the Tampa Bay Rowdies to see who would represent the East. Because of the controversy surrounding Phoenix, the winner of the East would be the ones set to host the finals. Unfortunately for Lou City fans, this was the match where the wheels came off and the streak ended. The Rowdies came in with a game plan to disrupt City’s style of play and successfully execute knocking Louisville out of the playoffs with a 2-1 loss. Unbeknownst to the Rowdies, it would also be their last match, as the Finals would be ultimately called off because of a COVID outbreak on their team. A miserable, yet fitting, end to the 2020 season.
Looking at Louisville City’s stats for the season, there is a lot to be happy about. City scored 33 goals in 2020 which put them at the fourth-highest goal-scoring total. They averaged 1.79 goals a game, good for tenth best, and the fourth-best expected goals (xg) at 1.7. The boys in purple were putting 4.8 shots on goal per match (sixth) and created 36 “big chances” (third). Defensively, they only allowed in 14 goals (0.74 per match) which is tied for second-best in the whole league. They led the league in clean sheets ending the campaign with nine. Because of this stellar defensive performance, Lou City only averaged 2.4 saves per match (27th). Not only were Louisville City’s attacking and defensive statistics some of the best in the league, but their passing and possession were top-notch as well. Per match, Lou City averaged 376.6 accurate passes and maintained an average possession of 54.1%.
What is a team without its individual components? The players in this 2020 squad were all resilient in the face of adversity and all contributed to the squad’s success. Leading the line was the MVP finalist and All-League First Team player, Cameron Lancaster. Cam had a phenomenal season averaging a player rating of 7.31 and scoring in nearly every outing. He ended up with 12 goals, putting him at third-most in the league. It was during this 2020 season that Cam earned his 50th goal in the USL. He is an outstanding talent that won’t be soon forgotten in the league. Cam’s noteworthy season would not have been possible without the support of his wingers Antoine Hoppenot, Brian Ownby, and Napo Matsoso. While Hoppenot may not have found the net as much as he would have liked (only one goal), he assisted on seven goals putting him tied for fifth in the league. He played a dynamic role in the attack build-up, often finding himself in the right place at the right time to help expose the weaknesses in the defense. Ownby had a slow start to the season but came into form in the latter half of the season. This late-season blossoming has become his M.O. He scored once and provided five assists, all while using his speed to stretch the defense and wear down the opposition. Napo played a very interesting role this season and won over many fans. While normally used as a midfielder, a creative move to a winger role made him shine. He had three goals and two assists on the campaign, but it was his exciting ball work that dazzled the crowd and unnerved defenders.
Looking towards the midfield, the reliable trio of Corben Bone, Devon “Speedy” Williams, and Paolo DelPiccolo helped to dictate the team’s play. The second-highest scorer on the team was Bone. He had six goals (tied for 24th in the league) and had the highest player rating of the team with 7.43. Despite a slow start, he cemented himself as a fixture in the midfield, passing with a success rate of 86%. Speedy, an All-League First Team player, secured four goals in 2020 with one being the very first goal scored in the brand-new Lynn Family Stadium. He also contributed one assist and passed at an 87% success rate on his way to the second-highest player rating of 7.35. Paolo is a player who doesn’t make his money via recordable stats like goals and assist, but more so through the presence, he brings to the pitch. While he only had two goals and one assist, you could see a significant decrease in the team’s performance without him early in the season when he was sidelined because of injury. Captain PDP has long served as the glue the binds the team together.
And finally, we have Louisville City’s outstanding defensive unit comprising Oscar Jimenez, Alexis Souahy, Pat McMahon, Sean Totsch, and Ben Lundt. Oscar has been a long-standing defensive staple in the Lou City lineup and for good reason. His dynamic play from the back has helped to contribute to City’s attacking efforts. Despite only tallying one assist this season, he was featured in many of the attacking buildups. Souahy’s central defensive play helped cement Lou City’s season-long defensive masterclass. The young Frenchman had 19 interceptions and 32 clearances in the 2020 campaign. Despite being one of the oldest on the City roster, Pat McMahon’s veteran presence was critical for the team’s success. Pat’s 14 interceptions, 18 clearances, and an average player rating of 7.01 showed the value he brings to the squad. Totsch, an All-League First Team player and Defensive MVP finalist, had arguably one of his best seasons in his career. He was a key ingredient in taking the backline from good to great. Stepping up after the departure of Paco Craig, Totsch contributed one goal, one assist, 29 interceptions, 39 clearances, and a fantastic player rating of 7.28. Last but not least is Ben Lundt. The FC Cincinnati keeper earned his nickname “The Berlin Wall”. He had a league-leading nine clean sheets on his way to an All-League First Team selection and Goalkeeper of the Year honors. Lundt’s performances kept Lou City in some matches they may have otherwise lost.
Other contributors included the young defensive pair, Akil Watts and Jonathan Gomez, Wes Charpie, and Jason Johnson. One additional shout-out for Luke Spencer. At the end of the season, Luke made the tough decision to hang up his cleats and call it a playing career. While he may not have gotten many starts this season, he played an important role off the bench. He had been a critical component of the club for several years, contributing to many key moments in the club’s history, including his game-winning goal in the 2018 finals. Thank you for everything, Luke!
The 2020 season was one of highs and lows for the Louisville team. Losing the first match in their new home is something the team would like to forget, but going on a record unbeaten run and another Eastern Conference Finals appearance were some big positives that fans will remember for years to come. The challenges that this year has presented the world did cause many unwanted changes, but we were blessed to have a season that largely kept players, staff, and fans healthy. The stands may not have been full, but Louisville City was fortunate to allow a limited crowd safely. The club will look to build off the many successes from this season for an even more successful 2021 campaign. While many key players have already resigned, there are still some situations up in the air. Will Magnus’s COVID concerns keep him in Europe for 2021? What will become of Cameron Lancaster and Ben Lundt’s loan situations? While these questions have yet to be answered, Louisville City fans should have faith in Coach Hackworth (a 2020 Coach of the Year finalist) and staff as they work to build a team capable of earning the team’s third star above the crest.