Before the season, managing editor John Krysinsky asked us who we thought would win the Eastern Conference of the USL Championship this season. I started to write ‘Louisville City’ and all the reasons why the two-time defending USL Cup winners were the obvious odds-on favorites to stand astride the division yet again.
But looking at their offseason transactions, I immediately had my doubts. Louisville lost four key players over the winter and essentially decided to replace none of them. Greg Ranjitsingh, one of the best goalkeepers in USL, was sold to Orlando City, as was defender Kyle Smith. League-leading goalscorer Cameron Lancaster was transferred to Nashville SC. Wide attacker Ilija Ilić joined Indy Eleven. That’s four key starters – among the best players in the league – that left. Louisville added new players to replace them like forwards Abdou Mbacke Thiam and Sunny Jane, but it’s almost impossible to replace a 25-goal-scorer. In the end, I picked Indy Eleven to win the division.
In the early knockings of the season, it is clear that both Louisville and Pittsburgh are adjusting. City have won matches against Atlanta United 2 and Hartford, and lost their games versus North Carolina and Birmingham. They conceded four goals to NC and three to the Legion in those losses, while shutting out Atlanta. What that tells us is: Louisville are uneven. They’ll be looking to find a rhythm in this game against Pittsburgh and to find some consistency in play – to know who they truly are and what they’re capable of this year. Of course, the same thing can be said for the Hounds.
Louisville’s formation under head coach John Hackworth has been described as both a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-3-3. They attack with a lot of players – between five and seven – and keep only their centerbacks and defensive midfielder back. In their last game against Birmingham, that midfielder was Speedy Williams, the Jamaican international who spent his college days around the corner from Pittsburgh at Robert Morris University. He’s a versatile midfielder and a defensive pest. Louisville spent much of the game against Birmingham trying to work the ball through the middle in order to find the most dangerous spots to take shots, but their two goals ultimately came on crosses, although one came as a Birmingham defender misdirected a ball into his own net.
Louisville played from behind for much of this match, and they were at home, which resulted in them dominating possession while Birmingham looked to bunker defensively and counterattack. They look comfortable with the ball, so expect Louisville to try to keep possession, make shorter passes, and create a lot of movement as long as the score is close or level.
Creatively, a lot of balls come to former MLS player Brian Ownby. He plays as a left winger but often cuts in or starts with the ball in a more central location – think Thierry Henry or Lionel Messi (in terms of positioning, not ability). Ownby had 3 assists and 32 key passes in 2018, but has 1 assist and 7 key passes already in 2019. On the other side, George Davis IV is similar but with a little more scoring bite. The Hounds will want to make sure somebody keeps an eye on both of them.
The real concern for John Hackworth’s men is in the defense. Louisville looked bad in transition as Birmingham scored two of their three goals on quick breaks that got into the wide areas and resulted in poorly-defended open play crosses into the box. Centerbacks Paco Craig and Alexis Souahy didn’t have their best matches last week. Craig is one of the better defenders in USL, but his real claim to fame is that his father Mikey Craig was the bassist for UK New Wave/Reggae/Soul band Culture Club. He and Souahy will be hoping that the karma chameleon will return to them once again to help them clear balls out of the middle. Both fullbacks, Oscar Jimenez and Sean Totsch, were up in the attack but disappointing in defense, and City will hope that can be corrected this week. Totsch is a former Rochester Rhino.
Last Week’s Lineup
— Louisville City FC 🌟🌟 (@loucityfc) March 31, 2019
Date: Saturday, April 6
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, KY
Television: Pittsburgh’s CW
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #LOUvPIT