With 2nd place finish in hand, Louisville City buckles down for - WDRB 41 Louisville News

With 2nd place finish in hand, Louisville City buckles down for playoff preps

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Louisville City players celebrate an extra time, 2-0 win over NASL side Indy Eleven in Indianapolis, the match that earned them a trip to Chicago to take on the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup. Louisville City players celebrate an extra time, 2-0 win over NASL side Indy Eleven in Indianapolis, the match that earned them a trip to Chicago to take on the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It’s been the same story all season: “Head down and drive on.”

That’s what Louisville City FC Head Coach James O’Connor says after every loss. After every win.

And he’s still saying it even with a guaranteed second place finish in the USL’s Eastern Conference, a bye in the first round of the playoffs and a home playoff match up scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Louisville Slugger Field on Oct. 3.

“I’ve been saying it all season and I know. I get it. It’s very boring – cause everyone wants me to say something exciting and, you know, say something about somebody,” O’Connor said at practice Thursday.  “Unfortunately, I don’t work like that. I want to make sure that you focus on the short term and make sure that you do your job.”

His job now is to get his team ready for the playoffs with two road games remaining in the regular season.

“I’m sure at this point the players are a bit sick of it as well, because all I preach about is the next game,” O’Connor said.  “I’m sure they thought we were going to be celebrating or do something, but you don’t.”

Despite falling short of a regular season championship, Louisville City FC has much to celebrate. The team stormed out of the gate in March with a 3-1 victory over rivals Saint Louis FC and didn’t let its foot off the gas until clinching a playoff spot last week against Harrisburg City Islanders. Along the way, Louisville City boasted the league’s second highest average attendance with 6,675.

The team’s captain, striker Matt Fondy, broke the USL record for goals scored in a single season (20), picking up three hat tricks and four Player of the Week awards throughout the season. He’s now scored 22 total goals so far. Meanwhile, right-back Bryan Burke sits just three assists away from the single season assists record.

“You look at how the season’s panned out and the players that we have and the ownership group – the support we’re getting from the city -- I think it’s very, very encouraging,” O’Connor said.

But as he’s quick to remind everyone, there’s still work to be done and there’s no time to dwell on missing out on the regular season championship.

“I think for us as a brand new team to have been challenging the way we were so late in the season, I mean tremendous credit to the players for that,” O’Connor said. “The season is still underway, there’s still lots to play for. You finish things and do things properly.”

O’Connor has pushed his team to play better all season, even after every successful outing. He returns to the training ground with intensity and energy.

“We pride ourselves on accountability,” assistant coach Daniel Byrd said. “Working with James (O’Connor) has been a tremendous blessing, to be honest. He’s very hard-working and he’s very detail orientated. For me it’s a bit of a learning curve. I’ve had to really come into work every day and perform to my max.”

Byrd joined the team in December, returning to Louisville after coaching with Orlando City’s youth academy last year. His parents were missionaries in Zambia and Mozambique for 30 years, but Byrd eventually lived in Louisville for a time – playing for J-Town United and the 1999 Kentucky ODP team.

“It’s been difficult but equally it’s been very fulfilling,” Byrd said of his experience so far. “I mean James has 17 years in the top leagues in England and he knows exactly what he’s doing.”

O’Connor has brought his know-how into training throughout the season, pushing his players to mesh with his system. It’s something players comment on every time they have a media appearance. They talk about buying into O’Connor’s system and working on playing their game.

At pre-season media day, O’Connor talked about building out of the back with flexible midfielders and a high press. It’s an offensive style that relies on possession based attacking. His system has catapulted Louisville City to the top of the USL in goals with 54, to second in assists with 35 and second in total shots with 366.

Meanwhile, a defense led by goal keeper Scott Goodwin has put Louisville tied for third in goals allowed with just 30. Only Rochester and Charleston have conceded fewer goals.

“It’s less about the numbers and more about the feeling you get with those guys in the back,” Goodwin said. “I think our understanding with each other is always getting better. What’s important going into the playoffs is your form at the time and you can easily let that drop off in two games.”

Coming off last Saturday’s 3-2 loss at New York Red Bulls II, the team talked about focusing on keeping a clean sheet as they head to Charleston to take on the Battery Saturday night at 7:30.  

“Like I said to the players [Wednesday], regardless of -- you know -- if we get guaranteed second, I mean each game you approach in the right manner,” O’Connor said. “You make sure you go out and try to win the game. Saturday will be no different.”

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