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Keys to the Cup: Louisville City FC

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 11/08/17, 7:41PM EST

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Three things to watch for as Louisville takes aim at victory on Monday night


Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Louisville City FC’s strength as an overall unit has been the key to the club reaching the 2017 USL Cup, with an early-season formation change giving the side flexibility to interchange different parts to create matchup problems for opponents while finding record-setting consistency in front of goal throughout the year.

After claiming the USL Eastern Conference Championship this past Saturday, Louisville will face off with the Western Conference Champion Swope Park Rangers on Monday night at Slugger Field, where the club will be aiming to continue the run of host teams taking victory in the league’s championship game. Here are three things to watch for as Louisville looks to lift the USL Cup.

START OUT STRONG


Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

There’s a cliché about the first goal of a game being the most important, but if you look at Louisville City FC’s record when the side has taken the lead in comparison to when it has conceded first, the difference is pretty stark.

Louisville’s record in the regular season when it scored first was 17-1-2, with the only time it suffered defeat after going ahead being the side’s 3-2 loss against FC Cincinnati on July 15. All 11 of the side’s home victories in the regular season saw it score first, with the lone comeback victory coming thanks to a four-goal second-half blitz against Saint Louis FC on July 22.

By contrast, Louisville’s record when conceding first sits at just 1-5-3, not the sort of stat you want to be thinking about going into the biggest game in club history. City has scored twice inside the opening 15 minutes in two of its three games in the USL Cup Playoffs so far. Making it three out of four would be a strong step toward victory. 

HOLD THE CENTER


Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

There has been no team that likes to possess the ball more than the Swope Park Rangers in the USL in 2017. In the regular season, the Rangers averaged 58.6 percent possession, and so far this postseason, the side averaged more than 60 percent possession against both Phoenix Rising FC and OKC Energy FC, who while not known for their ball retention still both averaged more than 42 percent possession for the regular season.

Both players expected to sit in the holding midfield positions for the Rangers – Christian Duke and James Musa – completed more than 1,000 passes in the regular season, with the side finding links up the field to either play into feet and spring forward, or try and use a longer ball over the top of the kind that set up Swope Park’s goal against Sacramento Republic FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Rangers finished second in the league in passing accuracy on passes that ended in the attacking third of the field at 68.46 percent, 5.52 percent higher than league average.

For Louisville, disrupting those passing lanes, and reducing the time Duke and Musa and center back Amer Didic have on the ball is going to be crucial. With Brian Ownby likely to start, the role for both he and potentially Mark-Anthony Kaye to pinch in and help in midfield when Louisville doesn’t have the ball could play an important role. The duo made four combined recoveries from the center circle forward against another good possession side in the New York Red Bulls II last Saturday, while Paolo DelPiccolo could push higher to try and force Swope Park’s hand.

STRONG UP TOP


Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Louisville will face a second consecutive team that likes to press high when the opportunity arises in the Swope Park Rangers. That might mean the team needs to try and find an outlet into midfield either through the flanks via Ownby and Kaye or by using lone striker Luke Spencer to try and hold up possession and let the midfield break forward to join him.

If Spencer is going to be used as a regular outlet, however, he’s going to need to put in a stronger performance than the one against the Red Bulls II this past weekend. Spencer’s regular-season numbers weren’t bad, he won 45.9 percent of his duels – a respectable number for a forward – and 53.8 percent of his aerial duels – another very solid figure. Against New York, however, those numbers dipped to 25 percent for duels and 37.5 percent for aerial duels, which partially helped account for New York’s edge in possession. The visitors got back into the game, as Spencer never seemed to get a foothold before being substituted off in the 72nd minute.

With Swope Park’s Amer Didic among the better center backs in the USL, Spencer is going to have another big test on Monday night. He’s risen to the occasion plenty of times before this season, but if Louisville is going to take victory, it could need another big game from its 6-foot-2 forward.

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