The last game of the regular season. The match that would determine the top spot in the Central Division. The Birmingham Legion had done well to not only close the gap that Louisville City had in first, but to eventually overtake them as the division leader. LouCity, meanwhile, has had their struggles on the road but has kept first accessible most recently with a desperately needed a win over Memphis 901. With the Legion holding a two-point lead over Louisville, a win in Birmingham was the only outcome that would see Morados snagging the top spot.
Louisville City Lineup
Coach Danny Cruz selected the same starting eleven from LOUvMEM in regularly used 4-3-3. Given the health and form of the squad, this comes as little surprise. With playoff seeding on the line, it’s a wise move to field the best team. Expect to see something very similar for the first round of the playoffs.
Within the first minutes, the Birmingham Legion used the width of the field and passed the ball back and forth to work the ball deep into Louisville City’s half and took a shot that went narrowly wide of the near post. Their intentions to play to win rather than park the bus was made apparent early. Only a few minutes later, LouCity created their first chance. Jonathan Gomez, given space to advance, drove the ball to the box's edge, passed it to Cameron Lancaster, but the Legion keeper beat Cam and prevented a shot. Lancaster would find his first shot at 14’ with a great strike from the box's edge that forced a diving save from the goalie. The back-and-forth contest continued until at 29’, off a free kick in the Legion final third, a header towards goal forced yet another diving save from the keeper. Only a few minutes later, LouCity took a corner kick and Jorge Gonzalez was in a perfect position to head it in, but he failed to make contact. While the match remained close, LouCity was looking like the slightly more dangerous side. The half would conclude with the scoreline still held at 0-0.
In the second half, there were several opportunities created by both sides, but none panned out to be serious chances. It was a hard-fought affair by both teams. The first close chance was at 71’ when Wes Charpie went one-on-one with a Birmingham attacker and stymied his attack long enough for Chris Hubbard to dive on the ball. An outstanding defensive effort by Charpie to eradicate such an opportunity. Only a minute later, a LouCity cross went into the box and off the head of Cam. However, it was off target and wide of the far post. At 77’, LouCity made their first substitution of the match, taking off Paolo DelPiccolo for Kyle Greig. The sub signaled the team’s attacking intent. Scary moment for LouCity not long after the sub when the Legion got off an angled shot in the box that went wide. Antoine Hoppenot and Jimmy McLaughlin came in for Corben Bone and Oscar Jimenez at 81’. Coach Danny Cruz was looking for an offensive difference-maker to help break the stalemate. Immediate payoff. At 83’, Hoppenot found the back of the net off a cross from Brian Ownby.
Tyler Gibson and Alexis Souahy came into the match at 84’ for Cam and Ownby to see out the rest of the contest. In the dying minutes, Pat McMahon joined the fray for Charpie to help fight off the desperate attacks of the Legion. At 95’, LouCity nearly had a clear goal, but the pass was deflected by a defender. Only a moment later, the final whistle blew and LouCity had officially grabbed the first spot in the Central Division.
By The Numbers
Louisville City was desperate for the win, and it shows in the numbers. Despite an abnormally low possession rate, they generated 14 shots and created 11 chances. While the Legion also generated some competitive attacking statistics, they were held to zero on target shots (to LouCity’s 5). The expected goal values for the match were somewhat close, but City held the advantage. It was a close contest and these values accurately capture the feel of the match.
Louisville City has always been a team that will not shy away from big moments. Given the magnitude of the last regular season match, they had to go into playoff mode a week early and they showed once again why they have a reputation for dominance. On the road against a talented Birmingham Legion squad, they stuck to their game and earned the three points necessary to earn the Central Division crown. “We did an excellent job tonight,” Coach Cruz stated after the match. “Executed the game plan exactly as we spoke about all week.”
With those three points secured, LouCity has put themselves in a more favorable position in the postseason. Game 1 in the 2021 playoffs will see Miami FC take their first trip to Lynn Family Stadium against the boys in purple. Miami has several notable LouCity alumni earning them the nickname LouCity South. Speedy Williams will return to LFS while Paco Craig and Richy Ballard will make their first appearance in Louisville’s soccer cathedral. It will be a must-see match and hopefully the first step in another match to the Eastern Conference Finals.