In recent years, you may have noticed some changes within the USL. This change isn’t as readily apparent as new clubs joining the USL Championship, soccer-specific stadiums being built, or clubs undergoing rebranding. It’s been a key piece of Louisville City’s success. Roster stability. While turnover is inevitable, especially in a league where one-year contracts are the norm, LouCity has always maintained the core of its team. That continuity has undeniably been a factor in their success. Other teams have noticed and reacted accordingly. The nearly full roster resets we have seen at other clubs are becoming to be a thing of the past.
This helps to make a team more competitive, but it comes at a cost; especially when you have kept your team’s core together for as long as LouCity has. Professional soccer careers have a finite lifespan and eventually, players’ performances decline, and those players decide to hang their boots up. Morados’s average age for 2021 was 27.8 years old, the second-highest in the USL. While the presence of the veteran players has been critical and will continue to be, the team needs to begin to lay the groundwork for the eventual departure of several household names. The academy will play a role in this youth movement. However, external acquisitions will also need to be part of the plan to build the foundation of a team that can propel the team into the next era.
Before continuing, I want to make it clear I am just as attached as you are to our older players. They have been, and will still be, the reason this club wins as often as it does. I’m not advocating jettisoning these crucial elements due to their age, but rather acquiring young players that can learn from them. LouCity has a culture of success and I want to see the culture imprinted onto a young core that can continue to carry the torch when these fan-favorites decide to move on. I want a seamless transition over a few seasons rather than an eventual rebuild.
With that said, let us dive into why age matters. If you are in your mid-thirties or beyond, you probably don’t need much of a sales pitch on this. You’re not as fast as you used to be and everything begins to hurt. Despite the incredible shape professional soccer players are in, it’s happening to them too (just ignore the unreasonable standards of the Ronaldo’s and Zlatan’s of the world). The average age of UEFA Champions League from the 1992–1993 to 2017–2018 seasons was 25.75 years old, with >80% being between 21 and 29. That’s not by accident. As shown in Mattias Kullwatz’s plotting of G+ and SHAP values, there is a sharp rise in players' performance until 25-27 when the drop-off begins. That decline grows sharper as players approach and pass the 30-year-old mark. For context, LouCity had 9 players at or over 30 in the 2021 season, with the majority of those players receiving notable minutes. Football Observatory has some interesting data on players’ age for ten non-European leagues and the top five European ones. Those leagues in total average 27.44 years old with only 29.2% of players >30 years old. To put things bluntly, the average professional soccer player peaks between the ages of 25 and 27, and things being to fall off from there with professional soccer players aged ≥30 years exhibiting a significant decrease in mobility.
Now, let’s revert the focus back to LouCity. In the lead-up to the 2021 season, the team’s new acquisitions were a blend of youth and veteran talent. Promising players like Jorge Gonzalez were complimented by established athletes such as Kyle Greig. This offseason began with a number of departures with the average age of exiting players being over 28 years old. The team’s new acquisitions have been notably young. Five of the eight signings (as of this writing) are 22 or younger, with the oldest being 28, which is still far from any concern of a performance drop-off. Coach Cruz has already begun laying the groundwork for this massive transition for the club that will occur over the next few seasons. There is a limited window to bring in the right young players that will be able to train with and learn from players who have only ever seen success in their LouCity careers.
Has the roster gotten young enough? Does Coach Cruz have a sufficient blend of established players and young talent that can begin their integration into the team? While I believe the answer is “yes,” only time will truly tell. Roster turnover is unavoidable and not all young signings will stick. Some could go on to become club legends, while others might be out the door in a season or two. If the majority of this 2022 group of signings prove to pan out, this offseason will have proved to have been one of the more important periods for the club. If not, the pressure will be on in 2023 to find the next generation as soon as possible.
While the importance of the team's long-term roster build looms overhead, there is much to be excited about as it appears the club is taking this period seriously. They have brought in a mix of players who have proven to be excellent players at the USLC level and others who have resumes and traits that indicate they can be game changers as well. These new signings will need time to fully mesh into the team (six months to a year). However, the future for the boys in purple is looking very bright. This new roster and the tactical changes implemented by Coach Cruz after his first offseason at the helm have all the right making for a thrilling season. LouCity seems poised to continue their dominance in the league and I, for one, can not wait.
Current 2022 Louisville City FC Roster
Goalkeepers: Kyle Morton, Parker Siegfried
On 02/23, the Coopers will be holding a USWNT watch party and membership packet pickup event at Atrium Brewing. Join in on the fun!
Have a friend just getting into LouCity soccer? Be sure to send them the Introduction To Louisville City link to give them a point of reference to learn about the club and league.