Photos by Christian Watson
On Nov. 13, LouCity FC became the 2017 USL Cup champions after a 1-0 win over Swope Park Rangers at Slugger Field in Louisville.
Photos by Christian Watson
On Nov. 13, LouCity FC became the 2017 USL Cup champions after a 1-0 win over Swope Park Rangers at Slugger Field in Louisville.
New supporter volunteer group seeking people willing to assist.
Louisville City FC has launched a new volunteer group for supporters who wish to assist in the growth of the United Soccer League club and soccer throughout the region.
Christened the LouCity Bourbon Brigade in honor of the region’s rich bourbon heritage, this new supporter-led volunteer group will have the opportunity to work directly with the LouCity front office and team by helping grow the soccer club’s supporter base.
LouCity Bourbon Brigade members will be invited to:
• Become a Lou City ambassador and assist and help staff LCFC events
• Use their own contacts and networks in the community to help expand the LouCity season ticket base
• Use their experience to assist LouCity in generating new season ticket sales leads, season ticket renewals and assist with promotional events and campaigns throughout the year
• Support the club’s charitable and community-oriented efforts
• Assist in the club’s efforts to have a new stadium built in Butchertown
Fans who join the new volunteer group will be rewarded for their time and efforts with recognition, great rewards and prizes and unique money-can’t-buy LouCity experiences including:
• An opportunity to meet the team and coaching staff at an exclusive event
• Attend a closed-door team practice and a team talk from Coach James O’Connor
• Earn exclusive club merchandise
• Have their photo taken with their favorite LouCity player
• Earn a chance to travel with the club to a road game and be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a trip to an English Premiership match
• Help introduce the team as part of the Bourbon Brigade Tunnel on match day
Supporters interested in joining the new group can apply at the club’s website: www. louisvillecityfc.com/bourbonbrigade. Membership of the group is by application only and open to anyone 18 or over. Interviews for successful applicants will take place in November.
“This is a unique opportunity for our most dedicated fans to get even closer to the club by dedicating their time, effort and contacts in the community to help LouCity and soccer in general in our region grow and flourish,” said Louisville City FC Chief Operating Officer Steve Livingstone. “If you love Louisville City and soccer, and have some time to spare, we’d love to hear from you by applying at the LouCity website. There are some great rewards, experiences and recognition for those supporters who get involved.”
Supporters can apply to join the volunteer group at www.louisvillecityfc.com/bourbonbrigade or call Jon Davis at 502.384.8799, ext. 114 or email him at email@example.com.
Can They Go One Better This Year?
BY KEVIN KERNEN | PHOTOS BY JONATHAN LINTNER FORMERLY OF LOUISVILLE CITY FC
As the calendar turns the page to October, Louisville City and the United Soccer League enter the home stretch of the regular season calendar, the most consequential time of the season for teams whose playoff destiny is in doubt. Luckily, the only thing Louisville City has to concern themselves with is securing top seed for the playoffs and home field advantage that comes with it.
The team has established itself as one of the most formidable outfits in the league, boasting a dangerous rotation of strikers, a flexible group of midfielders and a staunch cadre of defenders that together have given LouCity the tools they need to improve on their last two seasons’ playoff exits, both in the conference finals.
For a second division soccer team in America, success is hard to replicate and nearly impossible to maintain, especially for the almost three seasons that Louisville City has. This almost unparalleled success can be laid at the feet of the coaching staff and Coach James O’Connor, who is a great recruiter of players and an even better scout.
The team was lucky to hold onto as many players as they did over last offseason, and additions to the squad during that time have proven the difference in this regular season. Coach O’Connor looked to import players with USL experience, and guys like Brian Ownby, George Davis IV, and “Speedy” Williams have certainly contributed much to the teams continued success.
The addition of Ownby and Davis IV, in particular, as well as the adventurous play of outside defenders Kyle Smith and Oscar Jimenez, have yielded some exciting and expansive soccer, and the team has been more positive in their play because of it. All of this has taken some pressure off central midfielders and also gave the physically imposing Luke Spencer opportunities to outmuscle and outwork defenders to get on the end of crosses, something he does exceedingly well. LouCity hasn’t had a player quite as imposing as the 6’2” almost 200 pound forward, who has thrived after a move from his hometown club of FC Cincinnati.
After having a couple of offensive talismans in the first two years in League MVP and goal scoring record holder Matt Fondy and MLS-level proven Chandler Hoffman, the team has found a reliable replacement with Spencer. There’s also been more of a rotation in the strikers, Ilija Ilic got more starts in one month than he has in his first two years with the club, and Cameron Lancaster has also factored into a handful of goals himself, taking the load off the de facto single striker system that had developed with Fondy and Hoffman playing in attack.
The only real moments of doubt that have come up throughout the season have been associated with the goalkeeping. When Greg Ranjitsingh reinjured his groin in the season opener, Tim Dobrowolski took up the role of keeper for the duration of Ranjitsingh’s absence, playing well and maintained his spot for five games, even after the former’s return to health. A disappointing outing against Tampa Bay led to Greg reprising the spot between the sticks.
Ranjitsingh has had a few gaffes, which has led to a healthy competition for the spot, and there’s been a back and forth for selection by Coach O’Connor, where Ranjitsingh has edged Dobrowolski in appearances, but the spot is far from safe for the Canadian born Tobagonian.
On the whole, Louisville City experienced an upturn in performance from 2015 to the 2016 season, and the club is again on pace to edge their point total from last year, where they managed to lose just four times in the 30-game season. What caught up with the team last year, however, was not their four league defeats, but the nine draws they had, several of them in games against much weaker opponents, something that the squad has largely been able to avoid this season, even having lost a greater number of matches, they are now in a better position.
Not only has the team’s performance improved year to year, but there has been a marked uptick in attendance as well. Where the team saw an average of just over 6,700 at home in 2015’s regular season, and 7,200 in 2016, 2017 has averaged almost 9,000 through the turnstiles at Slugger, punctuated by the five-goal dismantling of FC Cincinnati in front of the club’s first ever sellout crowd of 13,812 on Aug. 12.
While all signs are pointed in the right direction, the real moment of reckoning for Louisville City has yet to come. They have a condensed schedule over the last few weeks of the season, including the recent road swing to Canada before playing out their final two games of the season at home, the penultimate contest against Charlotte, which may end up deciding who enters the playoffs in the top spot in the East, and a finale against a listless Richmond Kickers outfit, which could be an opportunity to rest some players before the start of the nearly month-long postseason.
The playoffs will begin a week after the final regular season matchday, and with the table as congested as it is, you can expect to see teams’ seeds change and if last year’s final weekend is any indication, some teams knock another out the playoffs on the final day.
For LouCity, attaining the top spot is important. They’ve gone to two straight conference championships, both on the road (Rochester in 2015 and New York Red Bulls II in 2016) and neither in front of very many people. The crowd at Louisville Slugger Field is great and to be able to play there as long as possible is a very worthwhile goal to see out the season with.
Having talked with Coach O’Connor after the heartbreaking penalty shootout loss at Red Bull Arena to end last season, I know that both he and the team expect more out of themselves, and as for qualifying the season as a success or failure, River Cities and Kings’ Cups aside, anything less than a USL finals appearance would be a disappointment.
BY JIM BIERY
As the Purdue Boilermakers begin their 2017 football season Sept. 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, they will be led out on the field by first-year head coach Jeff Brohm.
Coach Brohm has led teams into battle before, most recently at Western Kentucky University where he led the Hilltoppers to consecutive Conference USA championships in 2015 and 2016.
The big difference this year is that he will have a pretty large task ahead of him: trying to rebuild a program that has seen little success in recent years and, more importantly, has lost a large part of the fan base mainly because they haven’t posted a winning record since 2011.
When it comes to rebuilding a program, it helps to understand exactly what steps need to be taken and what direction you must lead not only the players on the team but the fan base as a whole. I sat down with Brohm to ask him exactly what the business of rebuilding entails.
Brohm played under Howard Schnellenberger at the University of Louisville from 1989 to 1993 and credits his former coach as being the master of rebuilding programs. Schnellenberger turned the University of Miami into a national championship winner and football powerhouse. He is perhaps best known in these parts for stating the Cardinals were “on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.” This seemed laughable at the time.
The key to the start of a rebuilding process is to get people interested and motivated while giving them a product on the field that is entertaining to watch. Another aspect is to create a brand for the program and also market it in the right way. “As far as getting the team to buy into the right philosophy, you need to get them to believe they are better than what they think they are,” said Brohm. “Create a sense of confidence and swagger as they take the field against any given opponent. The players need to know you are a genuine person and you’re in it for the right reasons, and if you surround yourself with the right people, anything can be achieved.”
For the fans, he said, you have to provide an exciting style of football that they want to come and watch, and know that the team is going to play to the very end with confidence, to see a team that plays hard and lays it all on the line.
Over the past three years, the Boilermakers have averaged 35,731 in attendance and have compiled an overall record of 8-26. This is the lowest three-year average since 1950-1952. That’s pretty dismal considering the seating capacity at Ross-Ade Stadium is 57,236. During this span, teams like Nebraska, Ohio State, and Notre Dame have had more fans in the stands for the game than the Boilermaker.
As far as the boosters of the program are concerned, Brohm said being open and honest with them and having an open-door policy is critical. Letting them know you are listening to them and willing to address any questions they may have is vital to building their support. “If you can get them to buy into what we’re trying to do and show the effort on the field, it helps to get them to trust in your beliefs for the team,” he said.
When it comes to putting fans back in the seats, you have to play an exciting schedule with teams outside the Big Ten that people want to see, Brohm said. You need to show the fans that you are competing at a high level, and if you can’t win all the games, the fans need to see the effort. Eventually, you win a few games that you’re not “supposed” to and get better every year, which should bring more people to the games.
When asked what a successful first year would look like, Brohm said he wants a team that is competitive and fights to the very end. This competitiveness should be evident to the average fan. They should be able to walk away from the game and say, “These guys play hard and they competed.” Of course, trying to win six games and go to a bowl is the logical first step.
With such an impressive start to his head coaching career Brohm had several opportunities to choose from when it came to taking the next step. So, why Purdue? “The school has a great tradition, is part of a great conference, and people are hungry for success,” he said.
Is Purdue football on a collision course like Schnellenberger believed UofL was? Who knows. But I’ll tell you this, given Brohm’s track record so far in coaching, not to mention his legendary mentor, I can’t wait for the journey to begin. Boiler Up!
LouCity fan Joey Cecil is in the fight of his life with much support along the way.
BY KEVIN KERNEN | PHOTOS BY JONATHAN LINTNER OF LOUISVILLE CITY FC
For most 27-year-olds, life is relatively simple. It’s no different for Joey Cecil – a financial educator and Trinity-Bellarmine-Louisville grad – who also has a love for sports.
He also happens to have terminal brain cancer.
Back in late March, after experiencing recurring migraines followed by bouts of vomiting, Joey visited three different immediate care centers. They were ready to chalk his symptoms up to a simple sinus infection, but after a couple weeks of his symptoms not diminishing, he went to the emergency room. There, a CT scan was ordered and after medical professionals spotted a growth that was causing the pressure, Joey was immediately admitted, and neurosurgeon Dr. David Sun went to work removing the growth.
Dr. Sun was confident he removed the majority of the tumor in question, but it’s impossible to completely remove the affected area without risking loss of various functions of the brain, so there are inevitably a few cancerous cells remaining. So, a sample of the growth was sent for testing. Joey and his family faced a tense two-week period before the results came back: It was a Grade IV glioblastoma, the most advanced phase of the relatively uncommon disease.
The numbers associated with that prognosis do not make for light reading: While it generally affects older patients, most people survive somewhere between 14 months and 3 years, with just 10 percent of people affected living beyond five years, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.
But Joey isn’t interested in the numbers.
He lives by a motto of “defying the stats” and he does something every day that puts himself a step ahead of the disease, be it improving his diet or taking a walk. He’s also an avid bowler (he has more than a dozen perfect games and a state championship to his name) and Louisville City FC fan.
Joey has taken a hiatus from his work at the Community Services department of Louisville Metro Government – where he served as a financial educator for low- and middle-income families – while he gets adjusted to his medication. He has used the time to both reconnect with friends and spread awareness about glioblastoma, but he is eager to return to his work, something he aims to do by October.
When you see Joey, the only indication he has a terminal disease would be the Optune device he wears around his head most days, a component of his treatment that’s used in concert with chemotherapy.
Battling any disease can be expensive. So, Joey’s friends made t-shirts bearing the words “Love My Joey” to sell with proceeds going toward medical costs. Additionally, the Louisville Coopers – LouCity’s supporters – have jumped on board showing support by way of banners, promotion of the t-shirts and much more.
“I love to see the shirts out there, but what I’m (most concerned with) is people learning about this disease,” Joey said.
Since glioblastoma is terminal, his student loan company has forgiven his loans from his history and political science bachelor degrees from Bellarmine and public administration master’s from the University of Louisville. He also has an open invitation to attend Louisville City training sessions, which was extended to him by Coach James O’Connor.
Joey’s relationship with the team started back in 2015, when he worked as a game-day intern to help his Trinity classmate and then-communication director Steve Peake. During Joey’s recovery at Norton Hospital, the team sent Joey a get-well-soon video, and he has had a personal relationship with many of the players since.
“(I have been happy) to see everyone in my life who wants to step up and help out,” Joey said.
Despite facing a daunting outcome, “(I am) happy that it’s happened,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t change anything.”
Instead of looking down the road, Joey takes things a day at a time. He’s talked to other people with the same diagnosis and found that “a lot of people with these diagnoses get bogged down, looking too far down the road instead of just doing what they can control.”
Like most anyone, Joey has a bucket list of sports – he’d like to visit London to see Chelsea play and take in the Masters, among other goals – but he’s not allowing himself to consider “I might not be here next year. … You cannot live in fear of (cancer), you live in spite of it.”
For more information on Joey’s battle, visit www.LoveMyJoey.com.
STORY & PHOTOS BY JD DOTSON
Always up for new challenges in my workout,a friend of mine from the YMCA asked if I had ever heard of a POUND class. “It’s working out with drumsticks,” she explained, “set to pop music.”
My interest was piqued, though I forgot the fact that I have no actual musical rhythm in my body.
The YMCA partnered with the YUM! Center for Fit Tuesday, a series of free classes every Tuesday in the summer. Zumba, Yoga, Insanity, Turbokick, Boot Camp and POUND are a few of the offerings running through the end of August.
Intrigued about POUND, I grabbed my friend Sarah and we biked to the YUM! Center. We had a vague idea but went with little knowledge of the class. We were ready to workout and be surprised.
POUND was created in 2011 by two recreational drummers and college athletes. One day, while drumming without stools, the women realized what a great workout they were getting. Wanting to put fun and energy back into their workouts, POUND was born and is now available in more than 40 countries with thousands of participants worldwide. POUND’s philosophy, as stated on their website reads:
WE BELIEVE in the power of music and the freedom of rocking out.
WE SUPPORT unleashing aggression, discovering new talents, and awaking new senses.
WE ENCOURAGE sampling new forms of movement, uncovering new rhythms, and tapping into new ways of listening.
WE PROMOTE camaraderie, friendship and bonding.
WE BELIEVE in loving our bodies while improving them.
WE BELIEVE in handing you the permission to Rock!
POUND’s website also claims, “POUND is the world’s first cardio jam session inspired by the infection, energizing, and sweat dripping fun of playing the drums.”
I am no Ringo Starr but I felt pumped to try this class. Sarah and I were ready to rock!
We were handed a loaner pair of POUND drumsticks called Ripstix, a neon green pair of hard and slightly-weighted plastic sticks, and joined the crowd around the instructor, Laura.
Spread out to give everyone room to move, the music started and we all followed Laura’s lead, cracking the drumsticks overhead to the beat.
Unlike my workout buddy Sarah, I was musically challenged, from clapping to the beat, to moving my body. Dancing is not my thing, either. I learned pretty quickly that POUND is all of my physical weaknesses rolled into one loud, rock ’n‘ roll package.
I am of the age that I care less and less about looking like a fool in public, so I was ready for 45 minutes of sustained foolishness. The moves started out fairly simple, cracking the sticks above our head then on the ground to each side. I could keep up with this rhythm for sure.
But as soon as I got in the groove, there was a switch up and a leg raise, and chest pump and drumming in the middle on the ground. The routine changed with the music, offering some fairly intense leg lunging, fast-paced drumming and sweating.
I admit there were moments I couldn’t find the beat, stood frozen trying to catch it, or beat my sticks out of time with the rest of the class, but I hung in there like a champ.
There also were some moments of technical difficulty and the sound cut out on the music (not my fault). Still, Laura, the instructor, kept us moving and the sound of 30 pairs of drumsticks beating the ground in sync (almost) was spectacular.
Once the music resumed, we were back, moving our bodies and POUNDing the pavement.
I was surprised at how much I worked my legs and back while drumming. I was prepared for an arm and shoulder workout based on the nature of the class, so the full-body soreness that was starting to set in was an unexpected perk.
Twenty-five strangers coming together to make music and workout on a hot summer day was pretty magical. Were we ready to take our act on the road, drumming our way into the hearts of percussion lovers everywhere? Not quite, but I did feel like a bit of a rockstar for making it though the class unscathed.
As for the workout, POUND hit all the areas (no pun intended). I felt it from the shoulders down to my calves, all with the addition of cardio. Sarah and I have plans to revisit POUND at the YUM again in August.
Nothing is needed to participate in the Fit Tuesday classes at the YUM Center. Arrive a few minutes early to sign a participation waiver. All supplies are included, but it would be a good idea to bring a water bottle, a face towel and a yoga or workout mat.
Learn more at www.kfcyumcenter.com/events/ detail/fit-tuesday
By Kevin Kernen
For those who aren’t imminently familiar with Louisville’s City beginnings, a brief history lesson:
It was the handiwork of some local and vocal proponents of the sport. The team started play in 2015 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals in both of their first two seasons, something that most people, Coach O’Connor included, count as a successful start to the team’s history. Having followed the team since its announcement, and the USL (the league that Louisville City plays in) for as long, I can testify that any staying power at this level is hard to maintain.
In the USL, players generally aren’t contracted more than two, maybe three years. One year attachments are the prevailing convention. Player attrition is rife in this league, which makes the fact that Louisville City has a cadre of seven players that have been with the club since its debut season a testament to the work that coach has done to cultivate a positive environment. Between relatively short-term contracts, players trying to showcase their skills for a potential move onto a bigger team, trying to maintain competitiveness and keep players with a like mindset, it’s very challenging to manage at this level. And that’s before you get to stretch the comparative shoestring budget that most USL teams work with covering player costs, coaching staff, front office positions, building and managing facilities- it’s no wonder that no fewer than 12 teams have folded or moved to a lower division in the leagues seven-year history.
What’s most vital to a team’s identity and financial livelihood is a place to call home.
Most independent teams in the USL have their own stadiums, something the USL mandated all teams must have by 2020.
Current LouCity ownership has addressed this by unveiling plans to build the team’s bespoke stadium, not to mention team offices, other office space and housing and dining plans as well, with the stadium slated to be finished by 2020.
This is vital not only for the organization itself, but the community and culture that has coalesced around this team. For Louisville City FC, getting into their own place is of utmost importance. At the moment, the team is in an unfavorable arrangement with Louisville Slugger Field where they have to rent the field, convert to a soccer configuration, they built their own auxiliary locker room and also don’t get any concession or parking proceeds, among other things. In short, the team is struggling to get toward profitability.
Building a new stadium, will give the team a brand new identity, and will enhance the teams already tangible home field benefit. It’s no secret that Louisville City has some of the best support around, and a new ground, which hopefully will have a safe standing section for the more adamant supporters, solidifying this as the most intimidating atmosphere in the USL, even better than some MLS teams.
Another thing that comes with this new stadium, is the renewed desire for getting into MLS.
Supporters experienced a bit of this back in 2015 when the team was performing well on the pitch, but the support had a ways to come. Cincinnati is making an unabashed run at MLS, brandishing their attendance numbers much more than their results or table position. Will they get an MLS expansion team? Maybe, it’s doubtful. They don’t have a stadium, an academy, stability in their coaching staff, all things that are important for MLS consideration.
For those that aren’t familiar with the process of gaining MLS membership, it’s not a simple or transparent process.
First, it helps to have a proven market for the sport in the region. Attendance at LouCity games has been on a steady incline since 2015, up to over 8,000 average home attendance, up almost 30 percent from last year. Another facet that is taken into account is TV numbers: Louisville turns in high TV ratings for English Premier League (some weeks cracking the top five markets in the country) although not as much for MLS.
But the biggest hurdle facing any MLS hopeful is the exponentially expanding expansion fees. Once less than $50 million, the nominal fee is rumored to have ballooned to nearly $200 million for the latest round of expansion teams. And that’s for the right to play in a league that has some of the most parity around, but is also what some people would call “contrived.”
MLS, as a consequence of establishing a new top-tier league in an already cramped sports landscape, had to make some creative decisions on how the league would be run. Both player contracts and franchises are held by the league itself, rather than the teams, with team owners considered as “investors,” salary caps are enforced with a few exceptions, something that would be completely foreign to a European soccer fan, among other key differences.
I happen to be of the opinion that the USL is the perfect home for Louisville City FC. Once the stadium is here, we’ll have a great facility and sustainable revenue structure. With teams in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Nashville coming next year, we have as exciting of a rivalry landscape as anywhere in American soccer.
With several expansion teams coming to the USL in the coming years, this league will become even more exciting and diverse. We have a great coaching staff, who’ve recently extended their contracts, headed by James O’Connor.
The MLS? It’s a goal, maybe just a pipe dream. We’d have to prove our city can support, build our own stadium and sell it out consistently. After all that, MLS has their own priorities, and those are certain to change between now and the 2020s. We’re in the USL now, and I’m more than happy with that.
For residents of Jefferson County in Kentucky, you can voice your support of the stadium by contacting your district’s metro councilperson. Louisville City has set up a portal for you to locate and contact your representative at LouisvilleCityFC.com/Stadium.
“The 41 investors who started this team did it (for three) reasons: One, we all love soccer. Two, we thought professional sports would be great for the city, and we really do. And three, when we saw we needed a soccer specific stadium, we said, ‘Let’s find the best site for that stadium for everybody.’ … When you look at this stadium, we’re only building 10,000 seats today – but we’re going to have 20,000 seats here. We’re building this thing to get an MLS franchise.” – John Neace, Louisville City FC Chairman
By Grant Vance | Courtesy Photos
Louisville’s premiere professional soccer team, despite its relative youth to the local sporting arena, is growing at an exponential rate. With a new stadium on the way in Butchertown, and no ceiling in sight for how far the success of this football club can reach, Louisville City FC has been bending it into the net and making a positive impact on the community in a number of different ways.
Here are some recent LCFC happenings to chant with the Coopers about:
Finally, a Stadium
As any game-attending fan of LCFC knows, the team does not quite have a home of its own. Currently, home games are held at the River Bats’ Louisville Slugger stadium. A shared space is better than none at all, of course, but the upcoming LCFC designated stadium will open up a world of opportunity for growth. The site of the stadium is located in Butchertown, carefully chosen to be a central, convenient route for fans from all around. Expect the stadium to be completed in 2020.
Go to extolsports.com to see the full press conference.
Pitching in with Falls City
Louisville City FC has partnered with Falls City Beer. This new partnership brought with it a new brew, taking fruition with the title LouCity IPA. Released at Boombazz in St. Matthews in Louisville, this is the first of many Falls City LouCity beers to come, each of which will support a new charity.
Taking pride in Playing for Pride
The Human Rights Campaign is currently hosting a fundraiser where registered athletes for the Playing for Pride campaign will donate money according to their games played and goals scored, among other qualifiers. LCFC players Niall McCabe and Tarek Morad are taking up the mantle, donating money throughout the season to help support the LGBTQ community.
We Are Birdgang now selling Louisville City Merch
Merchandise website We Are Birdgang has officially started selling Birdgang Brand Louisville City items, including tanks, hats and original T’s. This is just one among many outlets to purchase LCFC gear, and an exciting new outlet for more variety in supportive club threads. Check out the gear at www.wearebirdgang.com.
Coach O’Connor prepping for awards season
With a (thus far) winning season for LCFC under way, Coach James O’Connor is getting ready for another season entirely. The annual Courier-Journal Sports Award Ceremony awards the best male and female high school soccer stand out in the area, this year to be presented by Coach O’Connor. Mia Hamm will be the guest speaker for the event to be held June 12 at the Louisville Palace.
While these are some of the bigger events taking place for the club, news and updates are constantly evolving. Follow the team on any of their several social media outlets and at www. loucityfc.com.
For this month’s edition of Kickin it, Kevin Kernen turned his focus from the on-field exploits of Louisville City to the foremost group of howling, soccer fans who sing their praise from the stands, the Louisville Coopers.
By Kevin Kernen | Photos courtesy of M Dash Photography, 502.509.3176, www.mdashphoto.com
The end of March heralded the return of soccer in the Bluegrass, and with it comes a renewed passion for the sport. The players take the field, the beer flows, the supporters sing. And they also yell. And pop smoke grenades after Louisville City scores.
In soccer terms, there are fans and there are supporters. Fans show up to games a few moments before kickoff, maybe clap a bit and yell at the referee for an ineluctable missed call. Supporters begin their day hours before kickoff, usually with a beer or three, and arrive to the game arm in arm with their fellow crazed brethren in their game day march to the match, which usually departs from a local watering hole. They stand and sing for the whole match, usually from behind a goal, and are known for various displays – from giant banners to smoke grenades to questionable renditions of Depeche Mode. If you’ve attended a Louisville City game, you know exactly who I’m talking about.
History of the Coopers
For Louisville City Football Club, the largest, oldest, and most important group of these supporters are the Louisville Coopers. To fully understand how inextricably connected the two organizations are, I spoke to two founding members of the Coopers: Taylor Sorrels and Martin French, both busy fathers with careers and innumerable responsibilities, but also a shared passion for the sport of soccer.
It all started back in late 2013 with the creation of a Facebook page that advocated for bringing an MLS expansion team to the city. A few dedicated individuals attended a Metro Council meeting and decided that action needed to be taken.
Shortly after the Metro Council meeting, a group of strangers became friends. Sorrels, French, JC Cissell and John McCulloch decided over drinks that the best way they could attract a professional soccer team to Louisville was to form a supporters group, to demonstrate public interest. “For any sports team, you need a stadium; we can’t provide that. You need an owner; we can’t do that. You need a show of interest, and that’s what we could do,” said French.
Given the sporting landscape in Louisville, lacking a readily available facility and centralized soccer fan base, it became quickly apparent to this group that MLS was not very attainable.
Concurrent with this movement, Wayne Estopinal, owner and president of local firm TEG Architecture, and minority owner of Orlando City SC (then in the United Soccer League) was laying the foundations for a team to move to the Louisville area. Orlando had all but secured an expansion franchise in MLS, and was looking for a place to move its USL franchise, with the intention of loaning players to the new team for development, an idea the Orlando USL team itself had pioneered with Sporting Kansas City.
Estopinal established a connection with this group that would go on to be known as “the Coopers” via Facebook. With the realization that MLS may not be immediately attainable, both sides focused on securing Orlando’s USL franchise. Estopinal spearheaded the effort to recruit an ownership group, while the Coopers focused on growing a fan base and increasing their visibility. By the end of 2014, there were over 1,000 likes on the Coopers’ Facebook page and dozens attending meetings, laying the foundation for a dedicated and impassioned core of fans. Everyone’s vison of a professional USL team came to fruition on June 4, 2014 with play to begin in spring 2015.
Game Day Traditions
The Coopers were in full voice for Louisville City’s inaugural match against fellow debutants and assumed rivals Saint Louis FC on March 28, 2015. The first game also set the bar for the Cooper’s game day traditions. To start the day, some of the members of the Coopers would imbibe a beverage or two at Troll Pub Under the Bridge before a throng of eager fans assembled out on Washington Street about 45 minutes before kickoff for the party piece of the Coopers: the march to the match.
The march to the match is a microcosm of soccer fandom in America. The drums and smoke provide the perfect backdrop for the loud, often asynchronous but tangentially discernable songs and chants that everyone in the supporters section knows by heart. For particularly important matches, the Coopers create large banners called Tifos that cover the entire section with often less than complimentary things to say about the visiting team. After LouCity goals, they pop smoke, wave flags, and promptly lose their minds.
For the team’s part, the Coopers and supporters on the whole bring an energy and atmosphere that is largely unrivaled elsewhere in the league. Time and time again, Head Coach James O’Connor has lauded the Coopers’ contributions. Following the team’s goalless draw on June 25 against Cincinnati last season, James had this to offer: “We’ve got the best supporters in the league, I’ve said it many times. I think when you look at the passion that they showed … and even when we went up to Cincinnati they travel in numbers. … The passion they bring to games make it a really enjoyable experience for the coaching staff and for players.”
Away From the Game
The Coopers have a number of organizations they partner with, from Against the Grain Brewery (which shares a residence with Louisville City in Louisville Slugger Field) to Shirley’s Way, and several points in between. Back in February, a group of souls (including yours truly) representing both the Coopers, and a sampling of other supporters groups with more ambition than sense raised more than $2,500 for Special Olympics Kentucky in the Polar Plunge. The Coopers also fielded a team for an indoor soccer tournament that benefited Kentucky Refugee Ministries at the end of March, as did several other Louisville City FC supporters groups.
As far as membership numbers, the Coopers are by far the largest of many supporters groups surrounding Louisville City. “We’re currently around the 350 membership mark, but we expect to see that increase with the coming home games this season,” Coopers President Tom Farmer proffered. “We’re ahead of our pace for this time last year”. They have an elected board of members that guide the organization’s direction and are currently pushing for 501(c)(3) status, as they’re a nonprofit organization who also play a part in charity work. They’re meshing now, better than ever, with other supporters’ groups in order to form a unified front on what matters most: singing the praises of Louisville City FC.
By Kevin Kernan | Photos Courtesy of Louisville City FC
Louisville may not seem like the obvious next step for a player who had just won the league in his home nation, but for one of Louisville City FC’s newest signings, the United Soccer League (USL) seems like the perfect fit.
Sean Russell, a 23-year-old, left-footed Irish player, had been tracking the USL’s progressive improvements from across the pond for a few years. When LouCity’s head coach James O’Connor offered Russell a contract last December, he leapt at the chance. An obvious student of the game, Russell sought pastures anew after last season to forge a path where he would be given time to develop with, and for, a club.
For everything he is gaining by moving from the unsettled environment in Irish soccer that he described as a “merry-go-round,” Russell is also making a few sacrifices to establish his soccer career in the United States.
Back home, he was playing under his father, a former player himself whose journeyman career spanned eight teams and 20 years. He left behind a team in Limerick FC that he had fought with to earn promotion to Ireland’s top division after being relegated the season before, a feeling he described as “the worst in my career.” There is no doubt Russell is stepping out of what would be many players’ comfort zones to gain experience and skill in a country that he hadn’t set foot on previously.
Despite the lower division status of the USL, the move here was not random for the utility player. While Russell said many people in his home nation feel that if you don’t play in England or Europe, “there isn’t much else out there,” he saw beyond that.
“Recently, the USL has been growing at a really good rate, it’s been something that I was looking at and thinking that the level was quite good and (he wanted) to get an opportunity here and grasp it,” Russell said.
After expressing interest in the Russell for several weeks and tracking his play, Coach O’Connor extended a contract offer.
“He didn’t have to sell the club too much to me,” Russell said on their negotiations “I knew how professional they went. The philosophy of the game that James (O’Connor) puts into the squad is exactly what any player would want to play for.”
Russell looks to fit well into the Louisville City team, too. His versatility and work rate will keep him in good stead with O’Connor. In Ireland, he spent time both playing left back in defense and also could take up a more advanced spot in the midfield. Sean’s experience on set pieces means that he could be the one tasked with taking over free kick and corner duties.
Arguably, the most valuable thing he brings to the team are his intangibles. Championship experience is something that characterized all of the team’s signing this offseason, and Russell is no different.
Back in Ireland he played more than 1,200 minutes over a 28-game season to earn his team’s promotion to the first division. It was immediately apparent in conversing with Russell that he shares both the appetite and acumen for the game with the rest of the team.
Off the pitch, Russell likes to keep a low profile. He enjoys his down time but is looking forward to exploring the locale with his girlfriend, Becky, who made the trip stateside with him.
He also is keen on procuring a PlayStation, as it’s something he left back home in Ireland. While he is a fan of FIFA (the go-to soccer video game), Russell said, with a chuckle, he has only played as Limerick FC a handful of times.
Louisville City FC is fresh off their trip to IMG Academy in Florida, where they built up both their fitness and esprit de corps before returning home to a slate of preseason friendlies. The season kicks off March 25 when they host regional rivals Saint Louis FC.