Can you believe that it's already almost time for Louisville City soccer to return!? The offseason flew by! 2023 had its positives (kept that ECF streak alive) it was also marred with frustration and inconsistency. The staff and players have had a lot of time to stew on last year and I’m sure they are as ready as you and I to right the wrongs and remind the league that we are one of the top clubs. So, as we enter this new campaign, let's take a moment to review some of the storylines that will shape the 2024 season.
2024 will mark the club’s 10th anniversary season. In a sport and league full of instability in past years in the US, Louisville City hitting this milestone is a big deal not only to have simply made it this far, but to have done as much as they have in such a short time. The stadium, the training facility, the records, the YEARLY appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, and back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018. What we have here in Louisville is truly special and unique. This whole year will have an undercurrent of celebration throughout. Whether you are a newer fan or were in Slugger for the first match, make sure you take a moment to cherish this cool thing that has developed in our city. And you can then smile, knowing that this is just the beginning.
All In On The Back Three
It’s no secret that Coach Cruz is fond of a back-three setup. The shift in the direction has been several years in the making. In the recap of the 2023 season, I revisited the Formation Diversity storyline and saw the usage of a back-three shape increase from 18% in 2022 to 29% in 2023. Yes, 2023 was not nearly as smooth as 2022, but I’m not inclined to cite formation choices as one of the top reasons. Regardless of your opinions on the matter, all signs point to another increase in its deployment in 2024. Many of the squads' new signees all have experience in the shape or have been identified as someone who would work well in that setup. Adrien Perez almost exclusively played in a 3-5-2 last season with the San Diego Loyal (RIP). Jake Morris has been listed as a defender but saw quite a bit of time further up the pitch with Loudoun. Sam Gleadle, although expected to primarily serve as Manny’s RB successor, is no stranger to the midfield. Taylor Davila also had exposure to intermittent usage of a back three with the RGV Toros (RIP) last year. That is no accident. The back four will still be used as there is tremendous value in flexibility but expect to see an uptick in back three shapes with outside backs joining in on the offensive fun.
Last season’s signings were fewer but focused on bolstering a team coming off one of their best years ever. Dylan Mares, Jordan Scarlett, Rasmus Thellufsen, Oliver Semmle, and Maarten Pouwels (shortly after the start of the season). Excluding Scarlett (who was sidelined for the majority of the 2023 season), there was very little USL experience within the group. While there can be some upside to bringing in a talent who is an unknown quantity to the opposition, there is also a risk. This season, the team opted to go a more familiar route. All but Damian Las are coming from another USL club. Jake Morris only spent half a season with Loudoun, but regardless, he is a known talent. He has experienced the travel and has had an opportunity to familiarize himself with the other players and teams in the league. There are a number of factors you can point to in regards to last season's struggles, but securing a group of players who mostly have seen success in the league is comforting. They know what to expect from the upcoming campaign and will (hopefully) assimilate more quickly than someone coming from another league or another country.
And while we are talking about the new signings, let's briefly touch on age. For those of you who were concerned about the age of the roster, the moves made this offseason should help to alleviate some of those concerns. The average age of all the departing players was just under 28, while the additions to the squad averaged 24 years old. A nice move in the right direction in regards to long-term roster planning.
The USL has been catching the attention of bigger clubs. Over the past few years, there have been more and more outbound transfers and LouCity has been one of the league leaders in exporting talent. Players want to play at the highest level possible. Between Louisville’s success on the pitch and a growing number of talents who have gotten their big move here, it has attracted the attention of many players looking to make similar moves. Who will be the next Jonathan Gomez? Josh Wynder? Manny Perez? Oliver Semmle? The roster now has a number of young and prime-aged players. Could one (or more) of them secure their own move up the soccer food chain?
Look, we don’t need to beat a dead horse here. While it was still a relatively successful season, last year was below the standards we have come to expect from Louisville City. Especially on the heels of the dominant 2022 season. That will remain ever present in the minds of the staff and players who were part of that team. Heck, it’ll probably be drilled into the new players' heads as well. The point is, the whole team will be aligned in making it a point to be more successful than last year. And I’m expecting them to come out of the gate hungry to begin that process of moving on from the previous season's struggles.
It's become a yearly tradition to gauge the confidence level of the fanbase as the first match draws near. After last year, I was not sure where people would be at with the team. Apparently, the offseason moves have revitalized some confidence amongst the fans. Or we all voted with our biases unchecked. I’m opting to believe that the confidence is real and based in sound logic. Personally, I’m quite pleased not only with the roster moves but with how clearly they fit into the plan. Yes, there are certainly questions to be answered, but the roster is certainly talented and set up to be quite flexible with how they will play.
I, for one, am ready to see this team take to the pitch. They are currently working hard to build up fitness and learn their role for this upcoming year. Let’s hope their work now will cumulate in an unforgettable run! VAMOS MORADOS!
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Be sure to check out the Vamos Morados Podcast featuring me, Benton, and Zach Allen-Kelly. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Audible, and Spotify. Everything you need to listen can be found on the Podcast page. Subscribe so you don’t miss an episode!
Our recent interview with Head Coach Danny Cruz is certainly worth the listen!