The State of the Club – A 2020 Mid-Season Review
Where has time gone? We have already reached the halfway point of this strange 2020 season and there is a lot to digest. Louisville City began the season in their beautiful new home but lacked the swagger and dominant play that fans expect. Since these early woes, the team has rebounded and find themselves narrowly in front of St Louis in the standings at second place. The squad has had many ups and downs. As we enter the second half of the season, let’s take a look back and examine three positives and three negatives from what we have seen thus far.
We Now Know Our Best Eleven
The first several matches in the group showcased a continually changing arrangement of players. This was partly due to managing fitness/injuries and partly Coach Hackworth and the coaching staff trying to determine who the top players were after returning to play from the COVID-19 lockdown. While some teams were able to get right back into the groove of competitive play, Lou City struggled. Despite an incredibly purple-friendly schedule, Louisville lost three of their first four matches. New additions to the squad, such as Jimmy Ockford and Wes Charpie, were given starts as well as some already familiar to fans, like Abdou Mbacke Thiam and Brian Ownby. These early roster permutations did not bring much success. The likes of Ockford and Charpie have struggled at times in their new squad while Thiam and Ownby were not producing threatening shots on goal. Things first started to shift with and odd lineup change against Indy. Moving Napo up from his normal midfield role to the wing helped to add teeth to our offensive pushes and relieved pressure from the defense. Swapping Antoine Hoppenot for Ownby on the other wing has helped in producing recent results. The starting eleven that we saw against Loudoun and Sporting KC 2 (part 3) has to be considered our best setup. If these players stay fit, expect to see them in our must-win matches.
As we experimented with our starting eleven, we not only discovered our best pairings but also learned that we have a good amount of reliable depth. Pat McMahon, Sean Totsch, and Alexis Souahy have all been excellent. Oscar Jiménez has also been solid. In addition to these four, the play of Jonathan Gomez has been a pleasant surprise. The 16 year old has shown that despite his young age, he can play with the professionals. He continues to grow with each match. Alik Watts has picked up momentum however his growth has not quite been at the same level as JoGo. The new additions, Ockford and Charpie, have now had more time to gel with the squad and potentially rebound from the early struggles. While our attacking presence has not been quite as dangerous (more on that shortly), it’s been nice to know that the defensive situation has largely sorted itself out. WE have options available that can help get results.
Better late than never! City may have had a rough start to life in Group E, but they seemed to have found themselves before things got too out of hand. With half a season to play, momentum is now in their favor after coming off two consecutive wins where the squad managed to score multiple goals. Those wins brought them right back into the playoff picture and have given them a needed confidence boost going into a big match-up against first place Indy. Momentum is a powerful thing and the team needs to keep it going to secure a postseason.
A Hole Has Been Dug
There is no denying that Louisville City’s early struggles have put them in a tough position in the group. This is compounded by the fact Group E is arguably the “group of death”. It will be hard to rebound from lost points when you have no “easy” matches. Sporting Kansas on paper looked like the team we could score points against however they have been no pushovers. The young MLS 2 side has proven that they deserve as much respect as our regional rivals, St Louis and Indy. Its a close race in the group, and with only one game against an opponent in another group (Memphis 901 on 09/19/2020), City must get every win they can to lock up one of the two top spots if they want to see the postseason.
A Lack in Scoring Depth
Cameron Lancaster has, thankfully, been a consistent scorer. The former Golden Boot winner has shown why the MLS-bound Nashville picked him up last season. He gets goals and that’s exactly what is needed of him. What is concerning is the lack of goal scoring from other forwards. Midfielders like Corben Bone, Speedy Williams, and Napo Matsoso (are we still calling him a midfielder?) have had to step up and fill the void. Ownby and Thiam have churned out shots but have yet to find the back of the net. Hoppenot has struggled with this however he has at least earned a pair of assists. Luke has played a limited role being largely reserved for late game substitutions. More production is needed from our players in forward roles. If Cam were too tired for a start or, god forbid, goes down injured, there would be legitimate questions on who could fill that void. Former Phoenix Rising player, Jason Johnson, recently signed with the team but has only seen limited action on the pitch. Tweaks are needed to continue to find goals from other source. We need opposing team to fear multiple players in our forward positions. Moving Napo to a winger role was an excellent example of the kind changes needed. The move provided a whole new threat. As the situation allows, we need to experiment a bit further on our options. Perhaps that is giving Johnson more playing time to see what he can do. It could also be another relatively unorthodox change. One move I’d like to see is putting Brian Ownby in midfield. Ownby is fast and he passes well. He has not done great shooting the ball so perhaps it’s time to leverage his other attributes to help spread the opposition and create dangerous opportunities for others to take a crack at goal. This is a problem that extends beyond just this season. Cam is only on loan and Lou City needs a plan for if he does not return in 2021. Bringing back Magnus Rasmussen will help but can’t be our only answer.
Key Players Missing
Speaking of Magnus, we have really felt his loss. We should all be happy for him and his family that they are getting quality time together, but there is no denying that his goal scoring and incredible ball work would really be of help. Last season, he scored thirteen goals (leading scorer) and three assists (tied for fifth on the team). To make things worse, Niall McCabe had a surgery that has put him on the sideline until at least the playoffs. Niall had three goals last season (sixth) and five assists (second). That is a lot of missing offensive output from last season’s Eastern Conference Champion squad. Although he is still with the team, George Davis IV has been M.I.A. for all but 25 minutes of play. He provided three goals (sixth) and two assists (seventh) last season. Perhaps there are fitness concerns or maybe Father Time is catching up with the 33 year old. The veteran midfielder’s experience could be a difference maker.
This season has given fans a lot of anxiety, and recently, a bit of hope. The team appears to have returned to their winning ways, however, they still have several tests in front of them. Each training session grows more and more important as they try to work out the kinks with their play that led to a rough start to the season. One slip up could mean that we are praying for results from elsewhere at the end of the regular season rather than controlling our own fate. Louisville City has too much talent to let that happen. Let’s hope that the players and staff have learned from the past and have a successful plan lined up for the remainder of the season.