Since its inception, Louisville City FC has competed only for the Eastern Conference title.
Reaching and winning the USL Championship Final – the latter hasn’t happened since 2018 – is a different story, but the boys in purple have been one of the last four clubs to stand at the end of each of the last seven years. Coaches Danny Cruz and company will be hoping for eighth straight when they open the postseason game against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lynn Family Stadium.
To Clinch the Eastern Conference top seed With a club-record 72 points (22-6-6) during the regular season, LouCity earned a first-round bye and the right to host at least two playoff games should it come off this weekend. The boys in purple went 13-2-2 at home in the regular season with a +24 goal difference and could put the USL Championship Finals in the 502 if they continue to win – and if a team other than San Antonio FC take the Western Conference claims title.
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However, the atmosphere at Lynn Family Stadium has changed after allegations of sexual and verbal abuse against former Racing Louisville FC coach Christy Holly emerged as part of a National Women’s Soccer League investigation. The LouCity and Racing fan groups have made their demands for accountability to the clubs’ owning group, Soccer Holdings LLC, loud and clear with a silent protest and banners unveiled during games, but no one from the front office has been fired or resigned after dealing with it brought to light the allegations against Holly.
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“We have seen the statements made by the players, made by the club. We fully support the ability to do whatever will improve the club and make it a safer and better place to work,” Cruz said when asked on Thursday how the in-game protests have impacted his team.
“I think at the end of the day our players come out every day and try to do their best. Their focus is certainly the playoffs and at the end of the day we will continue to do what we can this weekend and make sure we make progress because these guys have put in a lot of work from day one to where they are now . I respect everyone’s right to do what they want in the stadium, but at the end of the day the focus for us is Pittsburgh.”
Here are five things you should know about the matchup:
How to watch Louisville City FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the USL Championship Playoffs
playing time: 7:30 p.m. Saturday 29 October
Location: Lynn Family Stadium (Louisville)
Online live stream: ESPN+
Terrestrial radio broadcast: 680 WHBE-AM; 105.7 WHBE FM
Louisville City’s Gold Glove winner Kyle Morton is among the questionable players
Two days before kickoff, Cruz said he didn’t know if USL’s top goaltender Kyle Morton would be on the field against Pittsburgh due to an undisclosed injury.
Morton, who played for the Houston Dynamo in the MLS before moving to Louisville, earned the league’s coveted Gold Glove award after keeping opponents at .74 goals per game and scoring 13 shutouts in 28 regular-season games. A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, he never conceded more than two goals in games in which he defended the net and mostly kept his team within striking distance until the final whistle.
“We hope Kyle gets to play in a playoff game,” Cruz said, “because his performances this year have earned him that.”
If Morton can’t leave, Cruz will turn to either Daniel Faundez or Parker Siegfried in goal. Faundez started five regular-season games against Siegfried and averaged 0.68 goals per 90 minutes.
This is just the beginning of LouCity’s injury precariousness.
Cruz said there was some question whether forward Cameron Lancaster would play against Pittsburgh after an injury-plagued regular season. Lancaster, the club’s all-time top scorer, missed all but six regular-season games after tearing a hamstring in the pre-season and sustaining a groin injury in the summer.
Longtime winger Brian Ownby is also a question, according to Cruz as he continues to recover from a leg injury. Meanwhile, midfielders Niall McCabe and Jorge Gonzalez will be out for the remainder of the season with foot and knee injuries respectively.
“The only thing I know about this group is that they’ve picked up on someone’s calls this year,” Cruz said. “That’s why we finished the way we did. I have full faith in everyone in this dressing room and full faith in the team I fielded on Saturday will give us the best chance of winning the game.”
How did Louisville City FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC during the regular season?
LouCity defeated Pittsburgh 2-0 on April 30 at Lynn Family Stadium and the teams played a 0-0 draw at the Riverhounds on September 10 at Highmark Stadium.
Cruz called Pittsburgh a “really, really difficult team to prepare for” because head coach Bob Lilley tends to throw different formations at opponents over the course of a game.
“We’re going to make sure we get a good idea of what their form is like early in the game,” Cruz said, “and from there it’s all about execution.”
Defenseman Amadou Dia said his first playoff game as a member of LouCity was shaping up to be a “chess match” between Cruz and Lilley. It helps, Dia said, that he and his teammates have gotten better at changing formations on the fly during their regular-season stretch run — and that the game is being played in Louisville.
“The fans made it extremely difficult for the teams to come in here and play their style,” said Dia. “We are very grateful to them and can’t wait to see them with us on Saturday.”
Player to watch: Sean Totsch
If Morton is unable to play on Saturday, LouCity defenders will need to take the pressure off his substitute by limiting shots on goal. That task will fall to a group led by Sean Totsch, the club’s all-time minutes-leader as he heads into the final stages of his sixth season in Louisville.
During the regular season, Totsch won 25 tackles with a 62.5% success rate and made 51 clearances, 11 blocks, and 34 interceptions. The Oswego, Illinois native scored nine goals in his career and hit a perfect 5-5 on penalties, establishing himself as LouCity’s go-to person in those high-pressure scenarios in Lancaster’s absence.
Look for Totsch and Dia, who come through early to derail Pittsburgh’s offensive momentum and generate counterattacks. In his freshman year at Louisville, Dia leads the club with eight assists.
What’s next for the winner of Louisville City FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC?
The winner of Saturday’s game in Louisville will go up against the winner of No. 2 Memphis 901 FC and the No. 3 Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Eastern Conference championship on Saturday, November 5 the regular season.
The USL Championship Finals will be held on Sunday, November 13th.
Reach recruiting and hip sportscaster Brooks Holton at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton.