Match Recap – Louisville City vs Monterey Bay FC – 05/21/2022
After being handed their first loss of the year, Louisville City had plenty of time to rest up and prepare for their next league match against Monterey Bay. A match at home against a struggling expansion team (who had to travel cross-country) with several key players set to return (Manny Perez, Amadou Dia, Cameron Lancaster) is as perfect of an opportunity as you could ask for to rebound from the loss and head into the midweek Open Cup match against MLS’s Nashville SC. However, no match is a gimme, especially with the team’s vulnerabilities made apparent in the previous match (in which they were favored).
With a full week to rest and recover, the starting eleven brought back a number of top performers. Manny Perez and Amadou Dia, who were absent from the last match due to injury, returned to the starting lineup. Cameron Lancaster, who has been absent all season because of an injury in the preseason, made his long-awaited return with a spot on the bench. Despite the lineup being portrayed as a 4-2-3-1, it was in fact the usual 4-3-3. The technology that captures these formations can get a bit confused on the shape.
Louisville City seized early control of the match and hardly ever let go. They kept the pressure on and forced the Monterey Bay players to weather a storm in their final third. Only 9’ into the match, a shot from Jorge Gonzalez rattled the crossbar. Less than a minute later, Brian Ownby took an angled shot that hit the near post. Unfortunately, that was really all the dangerous shots they could muster in the first half. MB, however, did get a few opportunities. Their biggest was a lobbed header towards the far post that forced a diving save out of Kyle Morton. The first half ended 0-0, with Louisville City appearing to be the better of the two sides.
The second half began with much of the same. Ten minutes into the half, Wilson Harris got off a decent shot on goal, but it was deflected out. Disaster struck not much later. At 58’, MB took a well-placed corner kick to the far post that was headed in by the man Ownby was marking. The cheers from the Monterey players were nearly as loud as the groans from the LouCity fans. Two minutes later, Louisville made a number of changes to their play. Ownby and Paolo DelPiccolo both came off, and Sean Totsch and Cameron Lancaster entered the match. Cam’s return was a welcome sight for the fans, that sparked hope around the stadium. With those subs was a change in formation. Cam joined Wilson up top while Sean slotted into the back. Manny and Amadou flexed up turning City’s 4-3-3 into a 3-5-2. The more aggressive switch, however, wasn’t netting Louisville a much-needed goal. Matiti Mushagalusa came on for Niall McCabe at 75’. Only two minutes later, a turnover in the midfield led to an angled Monterey shot that made it past Morton for their second of the night. The home side responded with more substitutes; Ian Soler for Josh Wynder and Oscar Jimenez for Amadou. Oscar found a good look at goal at 81’ after a slick move by Wilson to let it roll by him, but the MB keeper kept it out of the net. A desperate corner was taken at 90’ but the glancing header of the airborne ball went wide right. The final whistle blew and LouCity was handed their second straight loss.
By The Numbers
Like the last match, Louisville City won almost every statistic but the one that matters. They had a whopping 68% possession with the ball residing in MB’s final third 34% of the time to 19% in their own final third. City outshot the visitors 10 to three (four to three for on-target shots). Unfortunately, those shots only resulted in an xG of 0.99 for Louisville compared to Monterey’s 0.80. Generally, one should not put too much weight on the xG value for a single match, however, it’s a number that feels right after having watched it. LouCity was not nearly as threatening or dangerous as they should have been given all the opportunity.
Player Of The Match
Not to be dramatic, but I’m not sure there was a standout performance worthy of calling out. It would feel forced to select someone. The FotMob player ratings, while not perfect, don’t exactly bring any hidden contributors to light. Manny had the highest rating on the team, however, his lack of contribution in the final third after the formation shift is deterring me from him. Niall McCabe is the only other player above seven (a baseline decent performance), however, nothing about his outing really put him above the rest. Even Morton feels like a stretch to select. He did have a good save in the first half, but he could have maybe done better on the second goal.
I was feeling very confident heading into this match. As listed in the intro, there were numerous reasons why, and as a fan, I have the luxury of “writing off” opponents. But results like this one are exactly why the game is played. The underdog always has a shot at winning and that happened in this match. The loss stings, but the fact it’s due more so to LouCity not playing to their standards rather than Monterey over-performing makes it hurt worse. There were somewhat reasonable excuses for the LA loss, but not this one. “The performance was really disappointing,” Niall stated after the match. “We had the ball in our first two-thirds of the field, but in the final third, I don’t think we created enough. But we gave up bad, bad goals as well.” “Bad goals” is right. The first was a botched corner defense. MB’s well-placed kick found the head of an attacker that Ownby could have marked better. Sean Totsch’s long pass to Manny was intercepted and some loose defending allowed for the second goal that is normally stopped by Morton. It’s one thing to have one or two off nights. It’s another when it seems to be the majority of the squad.
While there were certainly defensive opportunities, Louisville’s attack was the bigger concern. There is too much talent on the roster for zero goals to be produced from 68% total possession (34% in Monterey Bay’s final third). Numerous subs were made in the match and even the full depth of City’s forwards couldn’t find the net. There were a few close calls, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. An xG of less than one is very uncharacteristic for Morados.
Unsurprisingly, Coach Danny Cruz was very upset. Generally, after the team makes it into the locker room post match, it’s not too long before those being interviewed make it out to give their remarks. It was a long wait after this one. “We are walking away embarrassed with the way that we ended the game,” a visibly angry Coach Cruz said. “We created a lot of opportunities in the first half, but we didn’t do a great job in the final third, and then in the second half, (we were) not anywhere near the level of our expectation.” He made repeated mentions of the final thirty minutes of the match as well as the usage of “embarrassed”. “We got into the final third over and over again with the exact pattern we talked through all week. The final service was lacking. It was poor. I thought the urgency and the intensity for the last 30 minutes was poor, which is why I used the word embarrassing. I can live with bad results – that happens in football, certainly. But I was not happy with the lack of urgency and mentality for the final 30 minutes.” He did make a point to acknowledge his own role in the match’s outcome and his responsibility to prepare the squad. While I appreciate the ownership, “off” nights like these feel more on the players than the staff.
One interesting thing we saw in this match was the shift to a 3-5-2 with the return of Cam. Coach Cruz noted that it at times was a back four with players like Niall regularly dropping back. However, this was exactly what Coach Cruz has been striving for. Unfortunately, it’s largely yet to bear fruit. The second goal was not a result of this. Numbers were there. Lazy play is the bigger culprit. However, it did not give Louisville the attacking boost most would have expected. Perhaps this is much of the reason why the final 30 minutes caught Coach Cruz’s attention. I am cheering on his desired system of play, however, it either hasn’t fully clicked with the squad or we have leveraged it at the wrong times.
Weirdly, it’s a blessing that we as fans get so riled up after two losses. We have such a great history of success, it really does feel like the end of the world in the moment. But, let’s take a step back. We are still one of the league’s top teams (currently 2nd in the East as I write this while Memphis 901 somehow snuck into the top spot). Statistically, Louisville City has been incredibly dominant (check out the numbers season-to-date from a few matches ago). Should those numbers hold in the long run, City will comfortably make the playoffs and be one of the favorites. Ruts happen. LAvLOU was the product of the cup run and tactical exploitation. LOUvMB was a perfect storm of “off” nights. If John Morrissey (USL Tactics) isn’t worried, neither should you. LouCity is still in a comfortable table position with plenty of season to work out defects. They still have the second-highest percentage to win the finals on FiveThirtyEight (13%). When have they been wrong!? Time for the boys to put their heads down and get ready for the big Open Cup match against Nashville SC. VAMOS MORADOS!
Be sure to check out my assessment of LouCity's start to the season as well as my feature on Josh Wynder!
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