When Louisville City FC hosted Saint Louis FC at Slugger Field on Saturday, soccer supporters in Louisville had several reasons to celebrate. Although the birth of USL expansion franchise had been announced months ago, the first kick marked the culmination of efforts and the realization of dreams to bring professional soccer to Derby City. A 2-0 victory in a nascent rivalry against Saint Louis was just the icing on the cake.
Louisville City FC owner Wayne Estopinal was thrilled with the turnout, the atmosphere, and the outcome.
“I couldn’t be happier. I think the team played really well. The fans, I think they saw a style of play that they are really going to appreciate. James has got a style that’s very attacking, very entertaining, but also hard to defend. I think we’ve got a really nice start here.” said Estopinal, “Everybody on the staff, everybody on the coaching staff and on the office staff, they’ve all busted their tails, and it was great to see them all get this kind of payoff. Six thousand people and a shutout.”
It took several minutes for the two sides to settle into a flow, but once they did their intentions became evident. Saint Louis worked the ball methodically up the pitch with connecting passes through the midfield, while Louisville wanted to play a more direct style. Saint Louis looked to be the more dangerous team for large stretches of the first half, but it was Louisville City that took a one-goal lead into the locker room.
Magnus Rasmussen was the man to score the first USL goal for LCFC, becoming the answer to a trivia question that is sure to be asked in the years to come. It came midway through the first half. Rasmussen collected a long ball sent forward by Juan Guzman and easily beat the only Saint Louis defender within miles of the ball. Alone against the STLFC goalkeeper Mark Pais, Rasmussen calmly slotted the ball into the lower left of the net.
In the second half, the pitch seemed a little more tilted in favor of the home team. On multiple occasions Saint Louis turned the ball over in their own half of the pitch. The turnovers, coupled with some sloppy defending, created multiple chances for Louisville City.
Charlie Adams made the most of one of those chances in the 67th minute. Guy Abend received the ball in the middle of the box, drawing the attention of several STLFC defenders. A nifty backheel layoff from Abend found Adams unmarked at the top of the box. Adams rifled a shot past a helpless Pais, creating a 2-0 lead that would last until the final whistle.
Adams was deservedly named man of the match by the Louisville City fans. Not only did the second-half substitute provide the electrifying goal, he demonstrated competency on the ball, he handled corner kick duties, and he was a pesky defender in the midfield.
I had named Louisville City as a dark horse to challenge for the top spot in the USL Eastern Conference. I saw nothing today to change my mind. Scoring threats are emerging apart from Matt Fondy, and the defense performed well enough to keep a clean sheet.
As for Saint Louis FC, the club appears to have a solid base on which to build. James Musa could prove to be an all-league center back. They moved the ball well, especially in the first half. What is really needed is quality in the final third, particularly the ability to finish.
Dale Schilly, head coach for Saint Louis, pointed out that he wasn’t happy with the result but wasn’t entirely dissatisfied with his clubs performance.
“The results are one thing, but for us, we’ve got to keep getting better every day.” Schilly said, “In order to do that we have to see what we saw today, a team that tries to move the ball. On the ball, I thought we were pretty good. I thought the first half we’d done a pretty good job. We created a couple of chances in the second half. Just missing a little bit of quality when we get into the final third of the field, but overall I wasn’t that displeased.”
Soccer in a Baseball Stadium
The fact that this was a soccer match taking place in a baseball stadium could not be escaped. The juxtaposition of the two sports was everywhere: goals and foul polls, touch lines and base paths, bullpens and technical areas, etc. The question was whether or not the surface would be playable.
A lot of work had to be performed by the grounds crew in order to get Slugger Field ready for a soccer match. The pitcher’s mound had to be removed, the dirt had to be covered with turf, and the field had to be lined. The result was a narrow pitch with seams between grass and turf.
With all of that in mind, the transformation was a success. The players did not appear to have a problem with footing, and the ball rolled true across the seems in the surface. No complaints were heard from players or staff from either team about the quality of the pitch.
Fantastic Turnout and Support
A crowd of 6,067 spectators turned out for the first professional soccer match in Louisville. It was an impressive showing for a cold day in a city known more for college basketball than soccer. If that kind of attendance can be maintained, Louisville City FC will thrive in USL.
Much of the atmosphere in the stadium was supplied by the supporters sections, both home and away. The Louisville Coopers, who should be partially credited with the arrival of pro soccer in Louisville, filled the arena with songs and purple smoke. Not to be outdone, an army of St Louligans made the trip with tifo and drums.