The playoffs are always a special occasion, but the return of three respected former players makes this one even more memorable. A Miami FC side touting Speedy Williams, Paco Craig, and Richy Ballard made their way north for their first visit to Lynn Family Stadium to take on Louisville City in the first round for the 2021 playoffs. Coming off a huge win over the Birmingham Legion to lock up first in the division, LouCity appears to be rounding into form just in time for the postseason. Miami, an unfamiliar foe, secured 4th in a competitive Atlantic Division and was looking to play spoiler in their first playoff appearance in their second season in the league. Would they be the ones to end City’s streak of Eastern Conference Finals appearances or would they be just another victim in Louisville City’s march for more hardware?
Louisville City Lineup
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Same eleven in the same 4-3-3.
While this section is dedicated to examining the LouCity roster, there is a particular oddity with the opposition’s roster that bears mention. The day before the match, it was announced that Miami acquired an “emergency loan” because of an injury with their backup keeper, leaving only their starter, Connor Sparrow. Miami's selection was Hartford Athletic standout, Jeff Caldwell (someone City faced in September). Rather than using him as the emergency backup (as the emergency loan rule intends but does not require) he was given the start over the keeper that stood between the sticks throughout their season. While this is all technically all within the rules, it’s a blatant disregard for the intentions of the rule and a loophole that needs to be addressed. It should not be an avenue to “upgrade” in the playoffs after the roster freeze (he had the 3rd best G-xG rate). This situation is discussed at length in Episode 20 of the Vamos Morados Podcast.
Miami made it clear early they were unphased by LouCity’s history of success and immediately came out aggressive and looking for chances. It only took three minutes for the first real scare for City fans. Sean Totsch got beat in a one-on-one situation, allowing the attacking Miami player to work the ball into the box. Chris Hubbard came off his line and made himself bigger. The attacker remained patient and took the ball across the box before attempting a chip shot over Hubbard that thankfully went out of play. City fired back at 6’ with an angled shot from Cameron Lancaster that forced a diving fingertip save from the loan keeper, Caldwell. While Miami was the slightly more threatening side in the early stages of the match, Louisville stood firm and began to take a greater hold over the match. After a thrilling sequence of team play in the Miami box, Corben Bone took a shot on goal at 27’ that was caught by the keeper. Three minutes later, Brian Ownby hammered a strike goal bound that was deflected back out of the box by a defender. Jonathan Gomez got the loose ball and sent in a low strike from the box's edge. It made it through traffic but was rebounded away by a diving save. Paolo DelPiccolo hustled to take a quick rebound shot, which was also deflected away by the scrambling keeper. City was unfortunate to not find the back of the net in that sequence. At 33’, the tables were turned, and it was Miami who was unfortunate to not have scored. A Miami corner hit off the body of one of their attackers and an open palm stop by Hubbard kept it out of the goal. Miami won the ensuing scrum but had to play it back out and couldn’t find another opportunity during that play. The tight back-and-forth contest continued until halftime was called, with the score still 0-0.
The battle continued with the same intensity as it began. At 56’, a bad pass from Niall McCabe gave Miami the ball in Louisville City’s half. Totsch kept pace with the attacker, limiting his breakaway options. Once in the box, Hubbard came off his line and dove on the ball, ending the potential chance for the opposition. After another thirteen minutes of play, a series of passes and teamwork in the final third resulted in a pass to PDP in the box who unfortunately could not find a quality shot as his legs got tangled by the ball. Should he have been able to get full possession, it could have been a great scoring opportunity. Thankfully, the home team fans did not have to wait much longer for their goal. At 74’, Jorge Gonzalez used his impressive ball-handling skills along with a give-and-go with Bone to take a curling shot around the defenders and the diving keeper to bag the first goal of the match. It was Jorge’s first goal since HFDvLOU and the first matchup with Caldwell in between the sticks.
Not long after, Jorge and PDP came off for Tyler Gibson and Antoine Hoppenot. Additional subs occurred several minutes later when Bone and Oscar Jimenez (who appeared to be injured) came off for Alexis Souahy and Pat McMahon. In the few remaining minutes of the match, Kyle Greig relieved Cam and helped see out the 1-0 win.
By The Numbers
While Morados did not win the possession battle as they are accustomed to winning, they did create 11 chances and 7 on-target shots to Miami’s 5 chances and 1 on-target shot. LouCity edged out Miami with 1.33 xG to their 1.05, which is a fair representation of how the match appeared on the pitch. Props to Miami as they were successful at disrupting LouCity’s generally stellar passing and kept them at a lowly 75% pass success rate.
It was an exhilarating and intense match and a great start to City’s 2021 playoff run. The team looked sharp, particularly on the defensive end. Wes Charpie has a particularly great outing. Although Miami successfully shut down Cam, Jorge was able to step up at a critical time. He and JoGo may not have always been in synch, but it takes just one moment to change a game. “We had good chances in the first half, so we weren’t worried about scoring the goal,” Gonzalez said. “We knew it was going to come…We always talk about it. We say when someone comes here, we’re going to play under our terms. That’s what’s so special about this stadium. It’s really hard to beat us.” Speaking of JoGo, he ended the night well but appeared nervous in the early phases of the match. It’s the biggest match of his young career, so it’s hard to blame him. Overall, great work by the boys to send Miami packing and remind Speedy Williams, Paco Craig, and Richy Ballard that their former club is still one of the top teams around. Shout out to all in attendance for this match. The atmosphere was special and noticed by Coach Danny Cruz. "It was amazing. Every single one of our players feels an immense sense of pride playing in front of these fans every single week. You could hear it tonight. You could feel it tonight. We’d press. We’d win the ball back and you could hear the crowd. It gives us another sense of energy."
On to the next one!
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