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2017: The Year of the Champions


A little before midnight on Nov. 13, Louisville City captain Paolo del Piccolo and the rest of the 20-strong squad hoisted their third trophy of the season: the United Soccer League (USL) Cup.

Rewind back a long nine months to the day the club began their preseason regiment of strength training and conditioning at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. There, LouCity spent two weeks at the world-class 500-plus acre athletic facility, each day punctuated by two-a-day conditioning workouts, training, and injury prevention programs, an investment that held the squad in good stead throughout the campaign. It was here that team leader del Piccolo first noticed the squad had the potential to be contenders. On the team’s mindset in preseason training, he offered, “We were looking around and thinking ‘oh my goodness, we’ve got a team here.’ ” It’s a sentiment that most other players have echoed, not only in the immediate moments after the championship, but all season.

After falling short their first two seasons, the 2017 iteration of LouCity marched all the way to the top of the Eastern Conference, finishing the regular season 8 points above the second placed Charleston Battery, a team with whom they shared a couple of exciting draws and bested once in three regular season matchups. Everyone knew that it was important for this team to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, not only for a competitive advantage, but to build support for the team moving forward, as Coach O’Connor noted in the press conference leading up to the USL Cup Final. “It’s very important to be able to host the game. We’ve come pretty close the last couple of years and were able to get there this year… . When you look at the growth of Louisville City and you look at our attendance figures… it shows the passion the supporters have for Louisville City.”

Coming into the 2017 season, the team revamped the roster. Having lost keys like Kadeem Dacres and Aodhan Quinn to upriver rivals FC Cincinnati, the team signed strong players with USL experience in Brian Ownby, George Davis IV, Oscar Jiminez and Devon ‘Speedy’ Williams – all of whom have made an impact on the squad and in games. Coach O’Connor found an electrifying player in Louisville native and Indiana University product Richard Ballard, someone who has proven himself as an invaluable late-game substitute throughout the season.

Then there was Luke Spencer.

While there was much made, mainly on social media, of the swoop from FC Cincinnati to come in and snatch up Dacres and Quinn, LouCity quietly unearthed a gem in Luke Spencer. Having played his college ball at Xavier, Luke was drafted by the New England Revolution before he injured his knee prior to signing on with the MLS side. He returned to Cincy where he played in the amateur Premier Development League and coached at his alma mater. He signed on with FC Cincinatti ahead of the 2016 season, playing just 64 minutes and registering four shots in the entire season.

Fast forward to the end of this season, Spencer led the champions in goals scored, registered 19 league starts, five assists and was named USL Player of the Week after he tallied a goal and a pair of assists in the 5-0 thrashing of his former team. While Quinn and Dacres featured in more matches than Spencer, they share two goals and no assists between them.

As the team announce they’re returning an astounding 16 players from the championship squad, it seems as if this team has as much potential as ever. Among the departing are three-year starters Sean Reynolds, Tarek Morad, and Guy Abend, with Morad likely to move on and Abend possibly signing a new contract with the team for the 2018 campaign. For next season, O’Conner is likely to replace Morad and Reynolds – both defenders – with a strong, yet agile player. Returning players Sean Totsch and USL Team of the Year member Paco Craig both possess these characteristics, which lend themselves to a three-defender back line, something Coach experimented with and adopted during the season, thanks to a staunch pair of goalkeepers in Ranjitsingh and Dobrowolski. That transformation freed up wingbacks Oscar Jiminez and Kyle Smith to use their pace to get up and down the sides of the field, to great effect, netting nine assists between them.

With a change in ownership, club leadership and front office expansion, and a stadium change soon to come, one thing has remained the same – a stalwart manager in James O’Connor. He is extolled by players, supporters and owners alike. The pragmatic, stoic and determined Irishman has made Louisville home for his wife and children and earlier this season, much to the delight of the Purple faithful, signed a contract extension with his coaching staff Daniel Byrd and Thabane Sutu through 2020.

The team this year has looked a step better. In previous years, they could become frustrating to watch as they let wins slip to draws and draws slip to losses. Longtime fans will remember lackluster results like in 2016 when they drew 0-0 Bethlehem Steel, 2-2 against a Wilmington team that folded later on that year and a heart-wrenching loss to Orlando City B that many fans will still get upset about.

This year, the squad has minimized falling flat, even against a stronger Eastern Conference. The team learned from that frustrating draw at home to Toronto FC II, a lackluster performance at Tampa Bay, who’s wage bill dwarves LouCity’s. A fluke of a game was had in Charlotte on their second meeting of the season, when an Enzo Martinez hat trick sunk the Purples for their fourth of only six league losses. They rescued a 4-4 draw at Charleston, where they twice found themselves down by two goals. They also defeated the New York Red Bull II on all three occasions they met, including the Eastern Conference Final rematch from last year. Let’s also remember the soaring triumphs, the 4-0 win at Bethlehem Steel, the 5-0 trump of Harrisburg City, the 4-1 smashing of Saint Louis.

And the five-goal extermination of Cincinnati.

More remarkable than the team’s propensity to put up crooked numbers, was their ability to win narrowly. On 11 occasions this year, Louisville City won by a margin of one goal. Of course, that includes the most famous win of them all, the USL Cup Final.

It was an electric evening. Western Champions and 4th seeded Swope Park Rangers were in town, hungry after being on the receiving end of a 5-1 hiding at the hands of New York in the previous seasons final. A TV deal meant that the game started at 9 p.m., but that did nothing to dampen the spirits of the 14,456 on hand.
It was a tense game. Louisville City played remarkably sloppy in midfield; perhaps the occasion was getting to them. The first half saw a goal for each team ruled offside, but nobody really had the definitive edge.

A couple of untimely injuries meant Swope was forced to make a few substitutions before they wanted to. They grew shakier in defense as the second half wore on, but LouCity grew stronger, bolder. In the 88th minute, off of a Kyle Smith throw in, Speedy Williams lofted a cross into Cameron Lancaster from deep in the midfield.

If you ask any of the players what happened next, they’ll tell you it was a blur.

But it was a Louisville City goal.

The rest is Louisville sporting history.


Louisville City FC | LouCity Poised For Another Historic Playoff Run

Can They Go One Better This Year?


screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-8-01-24-pmAs 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.


Grey Matter

acr907620400824322587647LouCity fan Joey Cecil is in the fight of his life with much support along the way.


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. acr907620400824321321249

“(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.


LOUISVILLE CITY FC | Tom Farmer:  From Soccer Cynic to Coopers President


As throngs of new Louisville City fans have discovered, the atmosphere cultivated at Louisville Slugger Field when LouCity takes to the pitch is both captivating and infectious. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is the case of the current president of the Louisville Coopers, Tom Farmer.

Farmer took office in January, but his route to the president of Louisville City’s largest supporters group began just a short 18 months before, when he attended his first Louisville City game with Elise, his wife of nine years, which he described doing “on a lark.”

Having grown up in Powell County, Ky., Tom – an IT professional for Humana and University of Louisville graduate – labeled himself as a baseball and basketball fan, and was less than interested in the sport of soccer. He went as far as to say that he had watched only a handful of soccer games, usually featuring either a U.S. national team or UofL.

screen-shot-2017-08-05-at-4-31-28-pmAll of that changed, though, after his first Louisville City match in 2015.

At that time, the Coopers themselves were only just getting acquainted with creating the colorful and exciting atmosphere that they have become known for, but Farmer knew he immediately wanted to be a part of the most vocal corner of the Louisville City game days.

At first Farmer was just another face in the crowd. Tthen starting by contributing to the organization through different odd jobs within the Coopers organization (like producing the Supporters Group’s own weekly podcast, Barrel Proof), he came to meet people he would come to know and consider his close friends. On one fateful night last season Tom quickly went from still relatively anonymous to famous (or perhaps infamous) among the Coopers’ loyal.

It was April 27, 2016, the “Rain Game,” as it has come to be known for the few Lou City faithful who stuck out the whole contest.

It was a Wednesday night, and the crowd was sparse for a mid-table opponent in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and a foreboding forecast loomed. There were several weather delays, taking over 90 minutes in total. The match probably shouldn’t have gone ahead, and after the first stoppage late in the first half, the field was in poor shape.

Most fans, Cooper leadership included, felt the game would be suspended. As Farmer, Ken Luther, then president of the Coopers, and an “unnamed accomplice” went to stow some Coopers game-day supplies in the designated center-field shed, they noticed a ball had been left on the field and the goal in front of the Coopers section was sitting agape. screen-shot-2017-08-05-at-4-31-39-pm

After what some might describe as an “unfortunate” series of passes, Farmer, having slipped and fell, got the ball to Luther in front of the goal, who consequently poked it into the waiting net. The security assigned to the game took exception to this, and escorted the sitting Coopers president (Luther) and Farmer off of the premises. The pair of them also went on to receive a letter from the club itself stating in no uncertain terms that should either of them set foot on the field again, they could be banned for life.

After an amicable meeting with then-Louisville City president Amanda Duffy, the air was cleared, but that didn’t stop Farmer from getting the entire Louisville City FC squad to sign his “Yellow Card,” as he referred to it, and hanging it proudly in his home.

It was on that night that Tom Farmer became “Tom Foolery,” a name bestowed upon him by Ken Luther.

Tom Foolery himself described the events that transpired that night as also having set into motion his path to becoming president, but more immediately, he became a member-at-large on the Coopers board of directors for the second half of 2016.

Farmer would be the first to admit he didn’t run much of a campaign for the presidency, but his platforms and goals were concrete. He set out to mend relationships between fellow supporters groups of LouCity that had become eroded at that point, he wanted to increase the footprint of the Coopers in the community, and he desired to make it easy for casual fans to become supporters of their local soccer team.

Categorically, Farmer has been largely successful in these endeavors. While the Coopers are the biggest and most visible fans at Louisville City matches, they (specifically Farmer) interact with the soccer club with the interest of not only the Coopers, but all supporters’ interests in mind.

Perhaps the most successful collaboration between the different supporter’s groups was the block party held at Goodwood Brewing before the July 15 match against FC Cincinnati, a collaboration between the Coopers and “the Black Sheep.”

As for increasing the footprint of the Coopers, look no further than the July 20 rally for a bespoke soccer stadium at Copper & Kings in Butchertown that was organized and promoted by the Coopers, along with the Butchertown Neighborhood Association.

While the Coopers’ membership numbers have been hovering around 350 strong, the supporters section in the stadium is usually filled to the brim, and the attendance at Louisville City matches has seen a palpable increase from season to season, and the club had a record 11,632 on hand last month for the aforementioned FC Cincinnati match.

Farmer immediately strikes you as a genuine person, and even though he is the head of an organization that exists to create a good time, he does not take his post lightly.

In one of my several conversations with him, he commented, “Every day I count my blessings that I get to be president of the Coopers. It’s been extremely fulfilling for me. … I’m very happy to be doing what I’m doing, and I’m happy that what I’m doing brings enjoyment to others.”

As he gets into the middle of his term, he continues to appear on Barrel Proof – the popular podcast – albeit as a host rather than a producer. He offers his casual point of view from time to time, as his soccer acumen is still developing.

One thing is certain though, and that’s the power of the supporters’ culture here. “I went to one LouCity match,” Farmer said, “and two years later I’m the president of the Coopers because I am so dedicated to this sport and this team.”


–Tom Farmer, Louisville City Coopers President 



Kickin’ It With Jonathan Lintner



By Grant Vance | Courtesy photos

The world of sports familiarized as a medium where icons are idolized. Prolific characters taking roles as the face of any given team, for any given sport is far from a rarity – especially when it comes to soccer.

There are, of course, the David Beckhams and Lionel Messis, Peles and Ronaldos, but that’s old news. Players are obviously an important component to any team, but the true hidden hero is the voice of a team, the man or woman behind the curtains acting as a middle-agent between team and fans, keeping an open dialogue between the two entities.

For Louisville City FC, this cloaked agent of dialogue is Jonathan Lintner.

Lintner is the young, professional team’s media director and has directed their public relations for “a little over a year now,” he said.

His relationship with the team, however, stretches much further than that.

“I’ve been writing about Louisville City FC since before Louisville City FC was a thing,” Lintner said. “I wrote the article for The Courier-Journal that first announced Louisville FC was going to be called Louisville FC. … Those sorts of things are pretty cool now,” Lintner said.

fcsmall2 screen-shot-2017-07-05-at-10-10-03-pm

Lintner studied journalism at Western Kentucky, joining a paper in Evansville upon his graduation.

“(I) worked for about a year at the newspaper in Evansville and wanted to come home (to Louisville), so I got a job at The Courier Journal,” he said.

Lintner worked at the newspaper for three years where he gained a host of experience. “It culminated into (me) being the lead person on the Kentucky Derby for the 2016 Derby,” Lintner said.

“Somewhere along there … I saw this thing on the internet about the Louisville Coopers and this ownership group from this team called Orlando FC that I had never heard of was coming here and they were basically trying to give Louisville a franchise, which seemed pretty wacky at the time.”

In retrospect, professional soccer in Louisville was, at first, a wacky idea. Luckily, the wacky nature of the team has passed, garnering a large fan base and following. But with a following comes a desire to interact with and know more about the team you are rooting for.

As Kevin Costner (sort of ) puts it in Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will want to message you on Twitter about things.”

That’s where Lintner enters the pitch.

“You know they call PR ‘The Dark Side of Journalism’ … but really I’m promoting the team,” Lintner said. “I feel like we have a cool thing here that people are into, so that makes the job easier. People ask what I do, and I never really get anywhere until I tell them ‘I run the Twitter account,’ ” he laughed.

Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the myriad of social media that’s evolved as a means of communication is important in the modern world, but it is not all about the “likes,” as the kids say. Despite Lintner’s trademark “crack a joke and winky-face emoji” tactic for when he is not able to reveal a specific update, oftentimes the job is a much more demanding in an age where information is flying faster than 700 speeding bullets.

“The nightmare is something getting out that isn’t true, because people kind of go with their first impression and that’s what sticks with them,” Lintner said.

One example is the debunked rumors of potentially building the new stadium, now officially announced for Butchertown, in New Albany.

“There are just so many things that go around social media that aren’t true,” Lintner said. “People always say with PR that you’re spinning something, but given my background, our releases look more like news stories. … You have to give the facts of the situation and let people make of it what they want. I’d rather them come up with their own opinions and own stances than us try and force feed them something.”