By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There’s been no shortage of talk about the challenges facing the Louisville City FC players in recent weeks. An overloaded schedule (thanks to their U.S. Open Cup success). A successful and popular coach suddenly leaving to take a job in MLS, along with an assistant coach and a goalkeeping coach.

It has been an uncharacteristically difficult stretch – winless since late May in USL play – for a franchise that has had little but success from its opening kick.

Now three players are charged with head-coaching duties, in addition to trying to lift the team’s fortunes on the field. Saturday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the Tampa Bay Rowdies was their first game since O’Connor had left for Orlando City FC.

It turned out to be their first league win in a month-and-a-half. LouCity responded to a 71st minute score by Tampa Bay with a Cameron Lancaster goal off a free kick just outside the box five minutes later to score a 2-1 victory over the Rowdies, maintaining their spot alone in third place in the United Soccer League’s Eastern Conference and, maybe more importantly, shedding some of the frustration of recent weeks.

“It feels good. It feels really good, not just for me but for all the guys in the locker room,” said injured forward Luke Spencer, who is the coach of record but who shares the duties with Paolo DelPiccolo and George Davis IV. “One thing that I don’t want this to become is me on the sideline and me coaching because it’s 20 guys on the team that left it all out there, they leave it all out there in training, and that’s where the result comes from.”

Louisville got its first goal on the counterattack. Devon “Speedy” Williams found Oscar Jimenez out wide, and the break was on. He passed to midfielder Niall McCabe, who served a perfect cross to defender Kyle Smith streaking into the box. He had a simple finish from close range for his second goal of the season.

Once again, Louisville saw a lead evaporate late, after a Tampa Bay goal with less than 20 minutes to play in regulation.

“That’s something that we talked a lot about,” Spencer said. “Today, George and Ilija [Ilic] came on as subs and were able to read and manage the game. They impacted it from the moment they came on; they were brilliant.”

Five minutes after Tampa Bay’s score, Lancaster drew the free kick just outside the box and lifted a strike into the top right corner of the goal to regain the advantage. The score was Lancaster’s seventh of the season and 25th career goal for LouCity, making him the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, passing Matt Fondy.

For the game, Louisville was outshot 13-5, but each team put five on goal. Tampa Bay kept pressure on Louisville’s back four of Paco Craig, Sean Totsch, Pat McMahon, and goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh all night, attempting seven corner kicks to LouCity’s one. But the Louisville defense held, especially late after retaking the lead.

“It’s great,” Lancaster said. “It’s been a tough last couple of weeks with how the results have been going. It’s a lot of relief off the backs of all of us.”

Lancaster said the togetherness of the team has “never been in question. The togetherness of the group is top notch so that’s always been good.”

Spencer seconded that.

“It’s something special,” he said. “Honestly, when you think about this, it’s never been done. You have three players that transition into being coaches. You have 17 players that immediately buy into that transition. . . . It’s incredible, but at the same time it’s just another game. I think, honestly, we all expected to win and go into every game to win. Now we’re focused on Charleston.”

Louisville City now gets another week to recover before visiting the Charleston Battery on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

(Postgame comments provided by LouCityFC public relations.)

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