The final match of the regular season. With Louisville City’s spot in the playoffs already set in stone, this final match against Hartford Athletic may not have any meaningful implications, however, it will offer LouCity one more opportunity to fine-tune their play before its win-or-go-home time. The first-round bye gives Louisville a week of rest and this match at minimum provides the team an opportunity to stay fresh (especially given that their last match was more than a week ago).
Kyle Morton was given the week off to deal with some muscle soreness, paving the way for another Danny Faundez start. A number of academy players found themselves available on the bench for this match along with Cameron Lancaster who has received steady minutes over the past few matches in his recovery from injury. Brian Ownby, however, was again MIA. After the match, Coach Dany Cruz stated that the hope was to have him healthy for the playoffs but it was not a guarantee. Those that did start in this match found themselves part of a back three formation. A setup used intermittently throughout the season with mixed results.
Despite the on-paper advantage for Louisville, it was Hartford who got the first good look at goal. At 6’, a HFD shot forced a big diving save out of Faundez. Ten minutes later, LouCity engaged in an awkwardly slow yet exciting counter-attack that resulted in a laser of a shot from Matiti Mushagalusa that the Hartford keeper deflected out. Louisville was on the attack again at 20’ with Amadou Dia taking a shot from the box’s edge that narrowly sailed over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Dia was again in on the attack. This time, he sent a cross in to Wilson Harris whose header was off-target and wide of the far post. Ray Serrano engaged in a similar sequence with Harris at 28’ with that header going over the net. Not to be totally outplayed, HFD tested Faundez again with a shot off a corner kick at 34’. Faundez made a leaping one-handed rejection of the lofted shot. At 41’, a long ball played by LouCity hit off a HFD defender’s back, allowing Matiti a lob shot opportunity as the goalie had come off his line for the ball but he put a little too much on it and put it on top of the net. However, Louisville did find their goal before the end of the first half. A cross from Ray was headed away, but Dia was in position to immediately recycle the ball to Paolo DelPiccolo at the top of the box. Paolo hammered the shot past the keeper and into the net to give the home team the 1-0 lead.
The second half began with a substitution of Amadou Dia (who was sitting on a yellow card) for Elijah Wynder. Unlike most matches this season, the attack was a little less potent in the second half. PDP did fire off a similar shot to his goal at 57’ but that one was off target. Harris and Ray exited the match at 62’ for Napo Matsoso and Cameron Lancaster as the squad shifted into a more traditional back four setup. Matiti got one of Louisville’s better looks of the half at 71’ with a breakaway shot that the HFD keeper deflected out with a diving save. Following this, Carlos Moguel entered the match for Tyler Gibson and three minutes later, it was Oscar Jimenez for Wes Charpie. Unfortunately, following that last sub, Hartford Athletic found the tying goal off a cross hit out of midair in front of the net. 1-1. As the game crept towards its conclusion, it felt as if the match was destined for a draw. In added time, Napo Matsoso was clearly fouled in the box, giving LouCity a PK and a lifeline for a win. Cam lined up and buried the shot, giving LouCity the 2-1 lead and, subsequently, the win. “What (Lancaster) has been through would be difficult for any player,” Coach Cruz said after the match. “He should be proud of tonight. He’s put in a lot of work behind the scenes. … For him to cap it off with a goal, a game-winner, he has a lot to be proud of. That’s not easy mentally or physically. It’s been a difficult year for him. I think everyone – you could see it in the celebration – was really proud of him for that moment.”
By The Numbers
While the scoreline was a little tighter than most would have hoped, the rest of the numbers skewed heavily in Louisville’s favor. LouCity outshot the visitors 20 (7 on target) to 7 (4 on target) with 4 big chances for the home team and only one for HFD. City out-possessed Hartford 54% to 46% with 63% of the visitor’s possession in their own half. Not great. Ultimately, the expected goals (xG) painted a pretty clear picture of Morados’ dominance; 2.25 to 0.83.
Player Of The Match
Ray Serrano didn’t go the full 90, but he was on the pitch while LouCity was at their best. There is a good case he is a big reason why. In his 62 minutes of action, he created a whopping five chances (and one big chance). Like last match, this was a great showcase of his growth as a player and his cohesiveness with his teammates. Ray could be a pivotal piece of the puzzle in the upcoming playoff matches.
LOUvHFD was a fun match, especially considering it was essentially meaningless. The boys in purple played with a unique sense of freedom. The first half with the back three was some of the most confident and fluid football I have seen from any LouCity squad. Liquid football. The only thing that would have made it better if they had found the back of the net more than once, but the lack of goals gives them something to work on before the next match.
Speaking of the next match, that has yet to be determined. Louisville City will face the lowest-seeded team to advance out of round one which could be Detroit, Miami, Birmingham, or Pittsburgh (but not Memphis or the Rowdies). Coach Cruz was excited about how the team finished the regular season, “When you look at 72 points in a season, I’m very proud of everyone in that locker room right now,” he said. “We also understand that the ride is about to start and that the playoffs are coming. For us to be able to do that at home, that’s massive. We’ll wait to see who the opponent is going to be, get some scouting done, and then we’ll start focusing on our first game in the playoffs.” The nerds at FiveThirtyEight are giving LouCity a 45% chance to make the finals and a 25% chance to win it all. Neck-in-neck chances with San Antonio. While Louisville awaits their first playoff match, they will take to the pitch against St Louis’ MLS Next squad (led by John Hackworth) in a friendly to keep sharp. While it’s unfortunately not open to the public, it will be a good opportunity for Coach Cruz and the gang to experiment and get things perfect before the first knockout match.
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