How’s It Going? Part 2 - An Assessment Of Louisville City’s 2023 Season-To-Date
Louisville City have 20 matches of their 2023 season in the books with only 14 remaining in the regular season. Early impressions were largely positive and Part 1 wasn’t so bad either. However, since these last check ins, the mood has clearly shifted. What’s gone wrong for the purple powerhouse and what is to blame?
What’s Gone Wrong?
At 0.90 goals for per match (GF/G), Louisville City ranks 23rd in the league, only above Detroit City. Their ability to put themselves in scoring opportunities has been poor as well, with just 1.24 expected goals per match (xGF/G) good for 18th in the league. For context, last season the squad managed 1.88 GF/G and 1.84 xGF/G. That is a 52% decrease in GF/G and 33% decrease in xGF/G. While a gap does exist between actual goals and expected, suggesting a level of “unluckiness”, it’s not significant enough to calm the nerves of fans. The team is finding shots, 11.75 shots per match (ShtF/G) just over the league average, they have lacked in quality (0.105 xGF per shot). With only three multi-goal games and seven matches where they failed to score, it’s safe to call the Louisville City attack one of the worst in the league.
The boys in purple defensive performance has been a bit more complicated. While they have secured nine clean sheets, they have allowed more than one goal in six matches, including three conceded to El Paso and five to Sacramento. With only one allowed in against PIT and DET, and two to BHM in recent play, that in conjunction with the toothless attack has amplified frustrations. Recency bias can certainly skew perspective. For much of the season, defense has been the bright spot. 1.05 goals against per match (GA/G) and 1.22 expected (xGA/G), it’s not been all that bad big picture. That is 5th and 9th, respectively. They have even been good at limiting shots, just 10.6 shots against per game (ShtA/G) good for 6th.
At the end of the day, it only points on the table that matters. LOU’s 1.45 points per game (Pts/G) have them as 12th best with a table standing of 6th in the East. While this is technically still in the playoff picture, it’s far off the mark from what fans have come to expect in the city. It’s a steep climb to get neat Pittsburgh at 1.81, Sacramento and Tampa Bay at 1.75, and Charleston at 1.71.
What’s To Blame?
The data paints a fairly clear picture of where the team stands. We are not the blue chip we have become accustomed to being. Momentum and morale are not in the squad’s favor. But what is the reason for this fall from grace? A few reasons have bubbled up in discourse surrounding the team; injuries, age, tactics, and mentality.
The injury problem is undeniable. They have regularly released injury lists with ~5+ players before a match. Wilson Harris, Brian Ownby, and Jorge Gonzalez have been regular features. Niall McCabe has missed notable minutes, not to mention the season ending injury to Jordan Scarlett, who was meant to be the Josh Wynder backfill. This has limited Coach Danny Cruz’s ability to play his top players regularly and develop consistency with the starting eleven. Regularly having to call audibles in regards to personnel is clearly suboptimal and has played a role in how the 2023 season has gone.
The one downside to LouCity’s roster continuity over the years is that father time yields to no one. The fan favorites that we have watched for years are not going to be able to keep doing the things they have done in the past and will have to adjust accordingly. I previously wrote about age and its importance in the game and with a number of guys on the wrong side of 30, it’s become a point of discussion. The average player age in the league is 25.79, but taking out the bottom 25% of minutes played, it rises to 26.59. Louisville City’s average for the majority of their minutes played is 26.9. A touch above average, but they do have a notable old and young split in their roster composition. While age is an undeniable factor for the long term, I’m personally not inclined to cite it as one of the main reasons for Louisville’s woes. A 33-year-old Brain Ownby is one of the team’s biggest catalysts. 32-year-old Niall is still a crucial component of the midfield. 31-year-old Sean Totsch continues to be one of the top defenders in the league. With age, they may not be the same player from seasons ago, but they are all players who would be a starter for most other clubs.
Tactics is another interesting conversation. Traditionally, the leaned on the tried-and-true 4-3-3 with a high press and it’s worked for the vast majority of the club’s history. Not so much the case this year. As the season wore on, we have begun to see more variations; 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, etc. Personnel availability has played a role but the lack of success with our old formula has to have been a big consideration. Even with these changes in shapes, the press has remained ever-present along with the reliance on crosses into the box in the attack. If change has been attempted on those fronts, it’s not been obvious amongst the ranks of fans at Lynn Family Stadium. Full on system changes midseason can be tough, but it may be time to evolve if that process hasn’t already begun.
This is the area in which I believe has played the biggest role in the team’s current predicament. Think back to how many blown scoring chances the team has had. A skyed shot by Cameron Lancaster early in the match at Detroit comes to my mind. That isn’t an issue that you can blame on age, tactics, or even injuries. It appears that many of our players are not acting on the instincts they have developed to get them to this level of the game. They are overthinking. And the lack of success from overthinking has likely produced some level of self-doubt. This is an area I can only speculate on (which I generally try to avoid doing) but with confidence down, finding a way to get their heads right could be one of the best solutions to getting the squad playing to the standard in which we know they are capable.
So, why are we in the situation we currently find ourselves? The true answer is probably some permutation of all the above. However, I personally think that mentality and injuries lead the pack. If the squad can start thinking like a goldfish and shake the injury bug, I think we see a very different team and improved results. With the quality we have, I believe that our gameplan will become more successful than it has been. As for age, I view that as more of a longer-term consideration. This offseason will probably see a more desirable age balance within the roster.
Louisville City has 14 remaining matches in the regular season. If they were to theoretically win all remaining matches (unlikely, but just hear me out), that would put them at 71 points for the season. That’s 2.09 Pts/G. Unfortunately, even if that were to happen, that would be below last season’s 2.12 Pts/G. Winning the league and likely the East is, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture. The team now needs to strive for rebounding and securing as much home field advantage for the playoffs as possible. There is little room for error and if we can’t climb the table, the ECF streak will be in jeopardy.
Things have looked bleak, especially recently, but don’t lose hope! Anyone can win on any given day and all it takes is one solid result to potentially begin to turn the tides.
Want to do a little more reading on LouCity? I suggest the following:
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