Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After it was over, there was no question what the night of the club’s first USL Cup victory meant to Louisville City FC Head Coach James O’Connor.
“Everything,” he said. “It really does. People have no idea, they really don’t. When you get a group of guys that give as much as our guys have given over that length of time, for us it’s an incredibly proud moment for everyone. When you look at the front office, you look at the work that everyone’s done, you come away and you think it’s just a really, really special moment for everyone at the football club.”
From the second-highest attendance in USL Cup history, a Slugger Field-record crowd of 14,456 packing the venue in front of a national television audience on ESPNU, to a hard-fought clash with the two-time Western Conference champion Swope Park Rangers, to a thrilling late game-winner by second-half substitute Cameron Lancaster, Louisville’s night had everything.
At the top of the list, though, was Lancaster’s goal, a cushioned header in the 88th minute off a cross by Jamaican international Speedy Williams from the right that floated into the right corner of the net, bringing the entire stadium to its feet.
“A fantastic header from Cameron. Great ball from Speedy and a phenomenal header from Cameron to be falling back like that and guide it into the corner, it just shows the quality he has,” said O’Connor. “For us to win and score so late, it just makes it all the more special. A really incredible moment for everyone connected with the club.”
The victory made a small piece of personal history for O’Connor, too, with the 38-year-old becoming the first to win the USL Cup as a player – with Orlando City SC in 2013 – and as a Head Coach. While that will be a footnote to the victory, O’Connor’s presence as Louisville’s field marshal for the club’s first three seasons has brought about a level of consistency on the field that has been hard to match.
Through stellar player recruitment and close attention to detail, O’Connor’s players had an early feeling that this year would end in the manner it did.
“When we got to Florida and were doing our fitness tests and looking around, you were like, ‘oh my goodness, we’ve got a team here,’” said Louisville captain and 2017 USL Cup Most Valuable Player Paolo DelPiccolo. “Straight through, the roster was incredible all year. There’s not one player that you can point to that didn’t carry their weight, everyone was doing everything. It’s cliché, and you’re like he’s just saying this, but it’s the absolute truth that the whole team won this trophy, and that makes it sweeter.”
And while the grind of defending the title will start quickly for O’Connor and his team as they looking to build toward the 2018 season, the biggest night in City’s young history was certainly one to celebrate.
“I’ll enjoy tonight,” said O’Connor. “I’ll certainly enjoy tonight, that’s for sure. We’ve got a couple of things going on tomorrow, looking toward next season. It never stops, honestly. I think for us there’s always a drive to try and win things. We’ll definitely enjoy tonight, that’s for sure.”