A record throng of 8,517 enthusiastic and hopeful fans filled the stands at Slugger Field for the first playoff match in Louisville City’s short history. The purple clad crowd did not leave disappointed. A game Charleston Battery side forced the action into two extra time periods, but City’s Matt Fondy punctuated the excitement with the contest’s only two goals in the second frame of overtime.
“Obviously very proud. Tremendous effort from the players. I thought that the substitutes that went on were very good for us. They gave us good energy. Overall, I thought the attitude, the work ethic of the players was first class,” said Louisville Head Coach James O’Connor. “And equally, the support we had tonight was immense. It was a really great atmosphere. It is a really special night.”
The action in the opening moments was not indicative of a match that would remain scoreless at the end of regulation. Louisville forced Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper into an acrobatic save of a free kick by LCFC midfielder Juan Guzman, and a number of chances from corner kicks were turned away or otherwise missed their mark.
Those early opportunities would prove to be the most dangerous for Louisville in the opening 45 minutes. As the match unfolded, City was able to move the ball into the attacking third with apparent ease, but the Battery back line was well-positioned to turn away any serious threat from the home side.
The Louisville defense did well to limit goal-scoring chances for the Battery in the first half. Charleston’s best opportunity came off the foot of forward Dane Kelly, who created some space for himself in the box, but rifled his shot just over the crossbar. Another chance was thwarted by LCFC defender Sean Reynolds, who bravely took down Battery midfielder Zach Prince with a cleanly executed slide tackle in the box.
Louisville held most of the meaningful possession in the second half as a scene that had become familiar to Louisville supporters began to replay time and time again. Bryan Burke and Kadeem Dacres repeatedly worked the ball down the right flank and crossed to Fondy, who was beginning to find some space in front of the goal. The result was shot differential that largely favored the home team.
“We’ve been doing it all year, you know,” said Dacres, who made his return to the starting lineup after suffering an injury on August 25. “Burke and I, we have a really good understanding of that right side, and I’m just happy that things were able to play the way we wanted it to.”
The play may have gone the way LCFC wanted it, but the scoreline did not. At least it did not until Matt Fondy added to his Louisville legend in the second period of extra time. In the 107th minute, Fondy rose above the Charleston defense to hammer a Aodhan Quinn corner kick into the goal. Fondy sealed the result ten minutes later, as he knocked in a rebound that Cooper initially saved off the foot of Magnus Rasmussen.
Coach O’Connor justifiably heaped praise on his entire squad, but knew that Fondy would garner the headlines. It was not simply that the league’s record-setting goal scorer tallied the only two goals of the match. It was that he did it while battling a fever and other flu-like symptoms, toiling through an exhausting 120 minutes of soccer and evoking memories of Michael Jordan in the 1997 NBA finals.
“It was an amazing team effort. We fought and we gave everything we had. From man one to man eighteen, we left it all on the field” said a humble, determined Fondy. “By no means is it over yet. We’ve got two more games to win. We’re looking forward to Rochester next week. That’s where our focus is.”
Indeed, Louisville’s playoff victory sets up an intriguing match-up this weekend in the USL Eastern Conference Finals. City takes the league’s most potent attack to face the league’s most stingy defense on Saturday night at Sahlen’s Stadium. The winner will host the USL Championship the following weekend.