Tag Archives: Louisville City Football Club

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Louisville City FC | LouCity Poised For Another Historic Playoff Run

Can They Go One Better This Year?

BY KEVIN KERNEN | PHOTOS BY JONATHAN LINTNER FORMERLY OF LOUISVILLE CITY FC 

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.

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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.

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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.”

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Press Conference | Louisville City Announce Location for new Stadium

Louisville City Football Club has finally found a location for their stadium in Louisville. The stadium will be located in Butchertown, convenient for fans from all local areas. Check out our coverage of the Press conference and interview with chairman John Neace.

 

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Kickin’ it With… The Louisville Coopers

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 lfc2supporters 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.

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Kickin’ It With Amanda Duffy

Story by Kevin Kernen | Courtesy Photos

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted before Amanda Duffy accepted the position of managing director of operations with U.S. Soccer and National Women’s Soccer League. Duffy is a rockstar in her field, and our community was fortunate to have her for as long as we did. –Angie Fenton, Extol Sports editor in chief.]

UNLESS you have been living under a rock the past couple years, you’ve probably at least heard of the burgeoning local sports franchise that is Louisville City Football Club. The team started playing back in 2015, and has quickly sewn itself into the tapestry of Louisville sports. At the helm of that organization is their president, Amanda Duffy. The Jacksonville, N.C., native grew up playing multiple sports, before she decided soccer was what she wanted to pursue. We sat down to talk about her journey from college to an illustrious career on the field to an impressive resume on the organizational side of the sport.

Kevin Kernen: You played a lot of sports growing up, and I know you attended East Carolina, is that where you knew you wanted to pursue soccer?

Amanda Duffy: I played all sports growing up; in college, I just played soccer. I was there for, actually, five years. I tore my ACL in my junior year and got a medical redshirt. I took my full five years of my undergrad and stayed two years after that as a graduate assistant for grad school.

Kernen: What did you major in during your time there?

Duffy: Exercise and sports science as an undergrad, and sports management for my master’s degree.

Kernen: So you knew this was what you wanted to do from early on.

Duffy: I did, I knew it was going to be in sports. Whether it was the coaching route, or whether it was corporate sports or college administration, I knew it was going to be somewhere in that. I just didn’t know exactly what route I was going to go down.

Kernen: Obviously, you have some coaching experience, being a graduate assistant at East Carolina. Tell me a little about your career on the front-office side of the sport.

Duffy: In order to finish my master’s, I had to intern at some organization. I chose at that time to go the the USL, the United Soccer League, which is the league we (Louisville City FC) compete in. They’re headquartered in Tampa, and I went down there for about six months and had a wonderful experience that introduced me to the administrative and business side of the sport that I hadn’t really been exposed to, having only been a player up until this point.

Kernen: Speaking of being a player, where was your playing career at that time?

Duffy: I was playing in the W League, the highest level of women’s soccer at the time, and working at the USL in Tampa getting my first taste of administrative experience. After that internship was done, I continued playing in the W League, and in the winter of 2006, I tried out and made the roster for a team in Sweden. I was on trial with them throughout their preseason and after I got a contract, I came back to the states and packed my stuff and moved to Sweden for a year. After that season, I came back and I knew that I was kind of done playing and was ready to move on to a career off of the field. At this point I was a good year and a half out of my master’s program, three and a half out of undergrad, and playing in Sweden checked a really big box for me as an athlete and as a player. When I got back home I told myself “I’m 26 years old, I’m ready to take that next step.”

Kernen:What did the next step mean for you?

Duffy: Fortunately, the USL was going through a restructuring process and was expanding its front office staff and new positions were opening up. It just so happened that when I gave the then-Vice President Tim Hull, who is now with San Antonio (also in the USL) a call, that it was the perfect timing for me to come over to make the next step. I came back to Tampa in 2007, and it was just a succession of an entry level administrative role to the director of operations. I was with them for three seasons until an opportunity came up on the women’s side, and I transitioned into becoming the senior director of the W League. It was a nice segue into developing my passion and interest for creating opportunities for women’s soccer, and that was exciting for me. I was with them until 2014, when I came here, which was my first experience on the team side.

Kernen: Was it difficult for you to work in that kind of capacity for the first time?

Duffy: This was my first experience outside the league, and that experience served me well. In the situation we had here, we had to put together a lot in a short period of time, and I was fortunate to know (things like) the USL operations manual, and while it’s had some tweaks and changes, I was part of writing it. So, I know it inside and out, and it was easy for me to know what had to get done so we weren’t getting fined and things like that. It was a lot that we did, and that experience helped me tremendously in getting started here in Louisville.

Kernen: I can tell that it’s important to you to get women involved and excited about the sport. Have you found that the sports management landscape is somewhat of a boys club? Is it still a little close-minded?

Duffy: I don’t think it’s close-minded, but it’s still an industry that is dominated by men. Even at the leadership level it’s male dominated: it’s male ownership, male executives, male coaches. I think it’s going to take time, although I think we have seen tremendous growth and strides with more women becoming involved, wanting to stay involved with the sport they’ve played, and there’s an element of players wanting to give back to the next generation of players that are coming through. I think it’s great to see these strong women in leadership positions to have the voice and show that there is not a ceiling, that there’s opportunity and possibility. Hopefully, it gives others the confidence to work towards what they have on their path.

Kernen: The team really hit the ground running once it was established here in Louisville. They’ve experienced a lot of success in making the conference finals in their first two years. What were some of the biggest factors that contributed to the groundwork of their success?

Duffy: I think we had a couple things in our favor: This franchise transferred from Orlando City (after they were awarded an MLS franchise), and they had experienced a lot of success. Just having that frame of mind was important to approaching this. Our head coach, James O’Connor, came from Orlando City and was part of some championship teams there in Orlando. He had a rich playing career over in England before coming to the United States. Having the right philosophy is important, whether it comes to training, taking care of your body, mental toughness, nutrition, our coach knows and lived that during his playing career, where winning was the only option. In the first few months when I was here, he was in the back of this office watching tape. It’s a very thorough and systematic approach for him, and it’s not about just what you see on the field, it’s a character approach for him. The guys who were brought in are great individuals and people. I think fans have really taken to these players.

Kernen: Finally, on a more personal note, how do you manage a work-life balance?

Duffy: (Chuckles) I laugh at the ‘work-life balance.’ I’ve had several conversations where I question work-life balance and what that balance is. The most important thing is that I love what I do, and I have the opportunity to work in this sport, and its growing so much and so fast. I love that I’m part of a business that is and continue to be as impactful as it has been in this community, and to the people that support what we are doing and what we are trying to be. I enjoy it and I don’t think it takes away from the life-side if I spend 75 or 80 percent of my time on this business. It’s all my passion and my work, and I love being a part of this.

As of press time, the USL hadn’t released the schedule for next season, but Louisville City’s schedule will feature preseason friendlies throughout March, likely against local competition before the traditional USL kickoff on the last week of March, running through late August or early September, depending on if the team qualifies for the playoffs. Next season’s schedule will be punctuated by fixtures against regional rivals FC Cincinnati and Saint Louis FC. Louisville City will try to build on their success from last season and earn a third straight trip to the playoffs. 

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Kickin’ It With… James O’Connor

IN CONTINUING WITH OUR SERIES ON LOUISVILLE CITY, WE SENT WRITER KEVIN KERNEN TO SIT DOWN WITH HEAD COACH JAMES O’CONNOR FOR A CONVERSATION ABOUT HIS JOURNEY FROM HIS PLAYING DAYS IN ENGLAND, COACHING IN AMERICA AND HIS PHILOSOPHY ON THE SPORT. 

By Kevin Kernan | Courtesy Photos

Kevin Kernen: You’re from Ireland originally, and you started your youth career in the Stoke City Academy in England, right?

James O’Connor: Yeah, I went to Stoke at 16, was there for seven and a half years, then I went to West Bromwich Albion, then Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday and then I came over here (Orlando) in 2012

Kernen: Would you consider Stoke a second home after your hometown of Bray?

O’Connor: Yeah, we were fortunate really. My wife (Amy) is from Stoke, so we were always within touching distance of Stoke. Between Amy’s parents still living there, and I’ve got some really good friends there, Stoke was a definite second home for sure.

Kernen: You had an impressive and long career across England. What kind of player were you?

O’Connor: Very hardworking, definitely a team player. I always put the team first. In my younger days, I used to pitch in with some goals. As I got older, that stopped and I became more disciplined and I became more of a holding midfielder, which looking back was a mistake. I should have kept going forward and scored goals. I worked hard, and I was pretty determined, pretty dogged.

Kernen: Do you see those kind of qualities in your own team?

O’Connor: Yeah, I think at times that I do. I’m really proud of the group of guys that we’ve had, and that we currently have. We got some really great guys character-wise. We do a lot for the community that I think is important. We definitely get out and have different appearances and try to give back as much as we can. It’s something we make a real effort to do. For us, we make a conscious effort that we’ve got good role models. When we set out, we wanted good players with good character, but we also want good people first and foremost, and we feel it’s something we have.

Kernen: In your playing days, you were playing over in England, and then you came over to play for Orlando City back when they were in the USL. What prompted you to come play in the U.S.?

O’Connor: We actually came on holiday to Orlando, and I knew Adrian (Heath, then coaching Orlando City) and Phil (Rawlins, founder and owner of Orlando City) obviously from them being at Stoke and it was something that we wanted to do. I didn’t envision it happening as quick as it did, but I was very passionate about coaching; management was something that I wanted to do. I took the opportunity to go to Orlando and help them try to become an MLS team. I thought that it was a really exciting project. At that point, I was 32 (and) I’d had a decent enough career in England. I felt that it was a nice way to go out. My kids were at a good age. I thought it was a great opportunity to go and try to learn the players’ mentality and culture in a different country as well.

Kernen: What was the biggest difference between playing in England and playing in the U.S.?

O’Connor: In England, I think the aggression is a little bit higher. I think the intensity is a little bit higher. As you go higher up in England, I think the speed of play goes up. If you watch the speed in the Premier League, if you watch the speed even in the Championship (English second division) games, how quickly that ball moves, it’s pretty intense.

Kernen: When did you know you wanted to go into coaching?

O’Connor: I started taking coaching licenses when I was about 23, 24, and it takes so long to get all your coaching licenses, that’s the other thing. The American system is changing, for the better. I think it’s great what U.S. Soccer is doing, the initiatives they’re putting in place I think is really exciting, and it’s needed. I think you can’t do an A license in a matter of days and expect to have real development. It takes time, and I think U.S. Soccer gets that.

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Kernen: What’s your favorite part about managing in the U.S.?

O’Connor: My favorite part is helping players develop, I think that’s the most rewarding. To sit with guys and then find out what their aim is, and create a path to enable them to hopefully achieve their goal and get better is something I feel good about doing here.

Kernen: The team came from Orlando after they moved to the MLS with the intention of Louisville City having some Orlando players loaned to them, but with the way things worked out, Louisville essentially became an independent club after Orlando couldn’t send Louisville players with an injury crisis during their first season. Was it more of an advantage or hindrance having to build the squad from scratch essentially?

O’Connor: It’s a bit of both really. Sometimes as a coach you can go into a dressing room with 20 players, and out of that there’s maybe two or three that you like. When you’re building your own squad, you like to think, hopefully, you like the players you’re bringing in, so that’s an advantage. The disadvantage then is that you’re working on a very short timeframe to develop spirit, group dynamic and these things. We’ve proven that we’ve been able to that with the success we’ve had. We’ve got 13 players coming back from last season, and we’re going to add some nice pieces coming up, so we’re in a good place at the moment.

Kernen: I talked with Amanda Duffy – who was president of Louisville City FC before she left the club to take a position with U.S. Soccer and National Women’s Soccer League – and she told me how you handled the sporting sphere of the organization, how you had a very rigorous approach to scouting players, and how you spent hours scouting players before you approach them. Tell me a little more about your process of scouting then signing players.

O’Connor: It takes hours. I think that’s the bit that people don’t understand. We can sign a player in the morning, that’s the easiest thing to do, but he might not be any good. That’s our biggest thing that not only are they good soccer players, technically, can they do what we want, but also are they good people, have they got good character? It takes a lot of time to be able to do your due diligence, and that’s where it gets tricky, because you want to make sure that they can not only do all the things you’re looking for but that they also have the right character, the personality, and then are they a good role model for the community. Because we care passionately about the community, we want to make sure that the people coming in can represent the values of the organization.

Kernen: When you go to sign international players, are they ever apprehensive of coming to play in the U.S.?

O’Connor: I think if you look at the last three to five years, I think the growth of U.S. soccer has completely changed. I think MLS has made great strides, and I think USL in particular has made tremendous strides. If you look at their growth, if you look at their enhancements on game day experience, enhancements for the players, if you look at the clubs, the level of professionalism has been raised, so I think when you look at the growth, I think that would (address) any fear that the players had. The players that we have signed are all excited to come to America. They see it as an opportunity to grow and to get better, and that’s one of the big factors that we want: we want for players to get better. One of the things that you have to have is a desire and determination to get better every day, and we just don’t talk about it, we want to see it.

Kernen: What would your players say about you and your coaching style?

O’Connor: Great question. You’d need to ask them, to be honest. I don’t know. I’m sure some of them think I’m very hard; I’m sure some would say that I am a perfectionist. I’d like to think that they understand that I am who I am for their benefit. It’s an interesting question, you’d have to ask them. They might say a lot worse than that; they might not be so polite.

Kernen: Do you care if your players like you?

O’Connor: If I’m honest, no, I don’t. I want them to respect me. I think you garner respect through your actions. I treat all my players with respect, and I expect that respect back.

Kernen: Not to press you for names, but do you ever get calls from other teams to try and lure you away to their cause?

O’Connor: Yeah, different opportunities have popped up, but we’ve got a job to do here. I’m very happy with things here, the group of guys that we have, we believe tremendously in. We’ve got a great group of guys. For us, it’s a case of adding one or two more pieces to it and hopefully we can have a good preseason and go have a strong year.

Kernen: When you first came in here, if someone told you that in your first two seasons you’d make consecutive conference finals, would you count that as a first two years of a new club?

O’Connor: Yeah, I think our achievements have been very good. For the first year to make the Eastern conference final and then back it up the second year, especially with the growth of the league. I think it would have been nice to win; certainly last year to go out on penalties was pretty rough. It still hurts, to be honest with you, and once we get back into preseason, it’ll get easier, but something like that takes a long while to get over.