By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – On the plus side, I don’t think I’ve seen many veteran coaches handle a postgame news conference after a painful loss much better than Louisville City FC player-coach Luke Spencer did after Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Chicago Fire in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.

These are tough situations. Losing a coach is difficult. Losing a really good coach is even more difficult. LouCity lost a really good coach.

What happened Wednesday night at Toyota Park wasn’t the result of poor work by the trio of players who were named coaches in the wake of James O’Connor’s departure. It was the result of a team without that lone personality at the top holding it together.

There’s not much else you can say about the unraveling in the closing stage -- two red cards and two goals conceded in the final half-dozen minutes. All were needless, and all obscure what had been a solid second-half effort after falling behind 2-0 before the break.

Chicago advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals for the seventh straight season, and improved to 28-1-2 in Cup games held in the state of Illinois.

But in the end, it looked far too easy.

“In the final minutes we gave up,” Spencer said. “Our mentality wasn’t strong enough. We lacked discipline in the final minutes, and it showed.”

Trailing 2-0, LouCity gave up a third score on a slowly-handled pass back to the keeper that was stolen and deposited into the net by Diego Campas in the 90th minute. Two minutes later Elliott Collier took a ball on the left sideline, beat a defender around the baseline then scored from close range.

In the first half, Chicago was able to burn Louisville with counterattacks.

“They did a good job of mixing it up,” Spencer said. “But at the same time, we got stretched back to front and there was far too much space for them to play between the lines. . . . In the first half we respected them too much, stood off of them too much. In the second half we made an adjustment.”

Now will come the jeers of those who believed player-coaches was a bad idea. Certainly, those three players were and are in a difficult situation, and back-to-back losses will only fire up frustration inside the locker room and out.

“They have every right,” Spencer said of those who will question the move. “But we move on, and we’ve got another game. We went out here and we tried to win. We try to win every game. We’re going to analyze the game, analyze the culture and try to find a way to win.”

 As LouCity moves back into USL play, it’ll have to find a way for players to come together. Even if the three player-coaches are saying the right things, they only help of those words and that instruction is taken to heart.

“It’s not difficult.,” Spencer said. “The difficult part is applying, in the heat of the moment in the game, especially when you’re trailing, it’s hard to stay disciplined. . . . James built an incredibly strong culture here. A lot of guys took a lot of security from James. I don’t know if outside looking in everybody understands that. So when James moved on, a lot of guys felt something was lacking or missing. And it’s hard to replace a coach like James.”

For LouCity FC, there’s little choice but to keep trying. A large contingent of Louisville fans made it up to Chicago for the game. Spencer addressed them at the end of his remarks.

“We greatly appreciate it,” he said. “It was nice to hear them in the stands. I certainly apologize for the discipline aspect. They have to be aware that we’ll try to clean that up. . . . It’s something that we’ve spoken about. We have to clean it up, but also just have more respect for each other. We’re leaving each other out there a an down, two down, it’s hard enough playing 11-on-11.”

And for this talented but beleaguered club, It appears to be getting tougher by the day.

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