By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Even in the best of circumstances, having players taking over coaching duties is a proposition fraught with peril. Even having an assistant coach take over is a practice met with mixed results.

For three Louisville City Football Club players now elevated to head-coaching duties, the challenge is even more difficult.

They take over for an outstanding coach, James O’Connor, who left for an opportunity in Major League Soccer. They take over a franchise that is riding high, half a season removed from winning a USL championship and still in the midst of a U.S. Open Cup run that has them as the only non-MLS team in the quarterfinals.

IMAGE GALLERY | James O'Connor's final game at LouCity FC

But they also take over a team has just one USL victory since May 26, along with a win over the MLS New England Revolution. Losing late leads has been a problem in three draws in the past month.

That certainly has been a hot topic of discussion between Luke Spencer, Paolo Del Piccolo and George Davis IV, the three players who were handed coaching duties after O’Connor’s departure.

The players know the situation is unusual, but they say it’s not uncomfortable.

Spencer, who underwent knee surgery on June 12 and is expected to be out for several more weeks, will handle most of the bench and other administrative duties required, since he is unable to play. He said that players know what to do. That they learned the blueprint to winning a championship a year ago, and that they need to stick to that blueprint now, even if the author of it has moved on to Orlando City SC.

“For us it’s following the process,” Spencer said. “Yeah, there’s been some changes, but for us the process stays the same. It’s coming from a different voice at times, but from the day-to-day training, our mentality and our goals stay the same.”

Del Piccolo, a team captain who will remain the on-field authority for LouCity, said that the response of the entire team to the challenge has been positive.

“Honestly, it’s been a bit stressful, but having three of us is going to be a big help,” he said. “And I say three of us, but again, it’s 20 of us. Everybody is pitching in and everyone wants to help, and again, that’s what James has built. Yeah, it’s Luke, George and myself who are going to be doing a little more tactical stuff, but when it got announced, the guys were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this. How can we help? Who can watch film? Where can we do this?’ It’s 20 guys who are all bought-in, all want the exact same thing and we’re all working together.”

One thing everybody will be working on is the recent problem of fading late in matches. LouCity lost a 2-0 lead and needed a late score to salvage a 3-3 draw Saturday night against New York Red Bulls II, and also lost second-half leads in draws against North Carolina FC and Penn FC.

“It was a tough stretch for us, five games in 14 days or something like that, and we had a couple of injuries,” Spencer said. “But at the same time, there’s no excuses. We’ve got to figure that out. We’ve come together and come up with some solutions to that, and that’s what we’ll be working on this week. . . . The tired legs can play a factor, but it’s more mental. The body will do whatever the mind tells it to. That’s something we really try to drive home. Also we need to have our subs contribute from the minute they get on the field.”

One of the first decisions the trio made was to take Monday off, after a schedule made more busy by a couple of U.S. Open Cup wins thrown in.

And all three have been on the phones, soliciting advice from anyone they trust.

“We want as much input as we can get,” Spencer said. “And we want to very receptive to information. . . . Something that we’ve done is call our mentors, old coaches that we used to play for, to pick their brains and see what they have to say about the situation.”

All three also listened to any help O’Connor could provide before he left. After Saturday’s game, Spencer huddled with O’Connor before coming off the field to compare notes.

“I was open to everything James wanted to tell me,” Spencer said. “Obviously when you have a coach like James you want to be as open as possible and taking it all in. He was asking me (after Saturday’s game) what I saw out there, and I was telling him, and he told me what he saw.”

O’Connor sees hope for the team under its temporary player-coach situation.

“George is very experienced, Paolo has been a great captain and Luke, again, good experience and is out,” he said. “I think between the three of them, and the fact that Luke is out and given a chance to see the game, I think the club was very intentional about involving all three of them. And, look, all of the lads will tell you, the past three and half years, they’ve almost been on an intense coaching course with the way I operate.”

History shows, these situations are difficult. Most teams are lucky just to tread water. But with a little rest, and a little healing, a trio of Louisville City players are hoping they can kick-start the team, even in the midst of a difficult situation.

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