CRAWFORD | Spencer epitomizes LouCity season in USL Cup win
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the Louisville City Football Club, it was just one more bit of adversity to weather. Cameron Lancaster, the team’s leading scorer, the leading scorer in USL, the leading single-season scorer in the history of USL, was sidelined by a hamstring injury and would not play in the club’s defense of the USL Cup against Phoenix Rising FC on Thursday night in Lynn Stadium.
So LouCity turned to a player it has turned to before. Luke Spencer was out with a knee injury when news broke that head coach James O’Connor was leaving the team. So he, along with two teammates -- Paolo Del Piccolo and George Davis IV -- stepped in. But it was Spencer who stalked the sidelines, who met with the media, who became the face of the “Triumvirate.”
So Thursday night was nothing new. It was just Spencer, stepping into another pivotal role, filling Lancaster’s spot, as he had done for the final 77 minutes of the Eastern Conference final.
And it was Spencer who, in the 62nd minute, saw an Oscar Jimenez corner kick pinball around, headed by Paco Craig, elude a bicycle kick attempt by Ilija Ilic, then settlie suddenly at Spencer's feet. He slammed it into the bottom left corner of the net.
And Spencer had set Louisville on its way, the guy who had battled back through injury, slogged through hours of film study, through games of keeping himself ready after giving way to the star striker.
Next man up, always for LouCity. And it led to the next championship up. Thursday's 1-0 victory makes them the first-ever USL repeat-champions. And the way it transpired couldn't have been more fitting.
Given a moment in the spotlight, after winning the game's MVP award, Spencer remained a spokesman not for his own turn of fortune, but for the team.
“This was a complete team effort, not just tonight, but all through the year,” Spencer said. “This is a complete team. I genuinely love everybody on this club. . . . It’s the work that was put in on a day-to-day basis. Credit to James O’Connor for setting a culture here. Credit to John Hackworth, for coming in, taking over the team, and the guys bought in right away. And, our team, the standards stay where they’re at, and it showed tonight.”
Sometimes these stories just write themselves.
But the accomplishments do not. Hackworth arrived not looking to remake the club, but to get to know the club, to make adjustments only when the time was right.
He was somewhat startled to find a successful team that was eager to have him add his fingerprints to the mix right away.
“We had a couple of moments where it was testy, but credit to them because they wanted to be pushed," Hackworth said. "They wanted to be coached. Every time we challenged them they said, ‘What more?’ It's just fantastic. Storybook, fairy-tale, it's just fantastic.”
Captain Paolo Del Piccolo said players were nervous about whether the new coach would be a fit, but credited Hackworth for moving the team forward.
“He wants us to play a beautiful style of soccer that we want to play,” Del Piccolo said. “He gives us the freedom, but he also holds us accountable. I think that Hack has brought so much to our locker room and so much to our team,"
Now the franchise moves forward, toward its new home that opens in 2020, toward championship expectations of a three-peat next season.
“I was talking to one of my buddies, too, who was watching the game and he said, ‘Your fans are smart. They’re educated,’” Del Piccolo said. “They stand up. Even a casual fan would only celebrate a goal whereas when we get a switch or get on a break, you hear the energy in the stands lift. So that’s just credit to the fans and the community because they’re educated fans.”
And even before the celebration died Thursday night, they were ready for more.
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