Louisville City FC celebrate after scoring in its 4-1 victory over Indy Eleven on Saturday at Slugger Field. | Photo courtesy EM Dash Photography
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville City FC took a step towards becoming the first team to win the USL Cup in back-to-back seasons as the defending champion claimed a 4-1 victory over Indy Eleven in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs on Saturday at Slugger Field.
Louisville carried the majority of the play in the contest – much like it did in its 1-0 win over the Eleven in the teams’ regular-season finale the previous weekend – but this time the home side turned its advantage in possession (57 percent) and shots (21 to 12) into a substantial lead to avoid a nervy finish.
“We tried to change some things up, but what we felt like we could do all week long was try to improve the things that we didn’t do well last week,” said Louisville Head Coach John Hackworth.
“We worked on that really hard and that’s not easy. But obviously we came back with the same [starting] eleven in a just slightly different shape tonight and we were able to execute it.”
One of the areas that the coaching staff focused on during the week was dead-ball situations. Louisville scored its lone goal against the Eleven on a Cameron Lancaster penalty kick, but the side felt it wasted seven corner kicks and several free kick opportunities in the attacking third that, if converted, could have helped put the game out of reach before the final whistle.
The hosts made no mistake with their set piece opportunities on Saturday as Niall McCabe gave Louisville the lead in the 29th minute, applying a first-time finish to Oscar Jimenez’s low cutback from a corner kick. After Ilija Ilic doubled Louisville’s advantage three minutes before halftime, McCabe extended the lead with a similar strike to his first, again firing a Jimenez layoff into the bottom-left corner from a right-wing free kick.
After the game, McCabe credited Louisville Assistant Coach Danny Cruz for analyzing the game film and finding a weak spot in the Indy defense that they could exploit with a set play.
“The original plan was to try the first one and see how it went and it went pretty good so we said let’s see if it’s there again,” said McCabe. “It’s something we work on, not just physically but tactically we work very hard. So it’s nice to see when it comes off and it gives everyone an insight on how hard we work.”
Six minutes after Soony Saad pulled a goal back for the Eleven in the 67th minute, Lancaster stepped over a free kick and curled the ball into the top-right corner for Louisville’s third set-piece goal of the evening to extend the lead to 4-1 and essentially end any chance of an Indy comeback.
With the victory, Louisville advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the fourth straight season and will continue its title defense against No. 6-seed Bethlehem Steel FC at Slugger Field on Saturday, October 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
McCabe believes his side – which featured 11 players from its 2017 USL Cup success on Saturday – is capable of becoming the first USL team to claim back-to-back championships.
“We know what it takes,” said McCabe. “We’ve been here before. We have the experience. The stage doesn’t get to you. We’ve been here numerous times. We have guys from year one and we’ve made it this far. Experience counts for a lot at this stage so hopefully it continues.”