There are a great many bells and whistles in Lynn Family Stadium, but there are no panic buttons. Those are a feature that the Louisville City Football Club has not really needed in its five years in town, especially not at home matches. But after an uncharacteristic 2-game home losing streak to open up its USL restart, there’s an unfamiliar concern in a COVID-shortened USL championship campaign.
LouCity FC coach John Hackworth has heard the grumbling from some fans. But he points out that the club is creating chances offensively, just not capitalizing on them. LouCity ranks second in the Eastern Division in shots taken, and is among the division leaders in passing accuracy.
In Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Saint Louis, top scorer Cameron Lancaster saw one shot hit the post, another hit the cross bar and a free-kick opportunity turned back.
“I still think that we played some really good soccer on Saturday night and displayed what we were capable of doing,” Hackworth said. “Soccer is a tough sport sometimes because of the low scoring, when some things don’t go your way, the ball doesn’t bounce, the referee doesn’t make the hand-ball call. When those kinds of things go against you, usually the better team can still come out on top. It didn’t happen for us on Saturday night.
“I’m not trying to make excuses, but I’d also try to maybe quell a little bit of this negativity that’s certainly being put on the players from some upset fans at this point. I can take all that heat. I’ve been used to it. It’s normal for me. But it’s a little bit unjust, when I watched that game back, now, 3 or 4 times, there’s so many good things that we did in that game. We just didn’t finish the final act in front of the goal when we were attacking, and we made one mistake that allowed them to get their goal.”
The problem for LouCity is that little mistakes can dig a big hole in a season shortened by the novel coronavirus. The goal is to finish in the top two of your pod, and at the moment, LouCity finds itself trailing Indy Eleven by 9 points and Saint Louis by 3 in Group E, though there’s lots of soccer left to play. With group play comprising most of the rest of the schedule, opportunities to advance will abound.
Hackworth’s bigger concern is having his team remain confident – while cleaning up some of its defensive lapses.
“We had a team meeting and film review, and we talked about the fact that we’re going to be OK, especially if we play the level of soccer that we displayed on Saturday night,” Hackworth said. “You don’t put a team on the ropes the way we put Saint Louis on the ropes by chance. You don’t move the ball the way we moved it. You don’t press and re-press and create chance after chance. Again, you’ve got to finish those chances. But we just have to remain confident. We have plenty of chances now to do that. But let’s remain confident in what we’re doing.”
But as a coach, there’s not much you can do when good looks don’t find the back of the net.
“Pray to the soccer gods maybe a little more?” he said. “This game is just cruel that way. Cam hits the post, and then a couple minutes later hits the crossbar. Takes a free kick, and did exactly what he wanted to and it just didn’t go our way. I’m pseudo-dancing around the fact that I 100% think there was a penalty kick early in that game. I don’t know how that’s not called. But you have to deal with that. So if we keep on creating those chances, we’ll find a little bit of our luck. I’d be more worried if we didn’t create those chances.”
In some ways, the club is still trying to figure itself out. Hackworth made six starting lineup changes – an unusually high number – Saturday night. And he’s likely to use a good many players with games against Sporting KC on both Sunday and Wednesday.
LouCity also is getting accustomed to a larger home pitch, though that wouldn’t seem to have been a factor in finishing, or in mistakes that led to goals over the past couple of games.
“You’ve got to come out and win games at this level,” Hackworth said. “But when we look at the performance, the better feeling from this Saturday to the previous Sunday, for sure. A much better feeling, knowing that what we work on we were able to execute. . . . For our club, we think of ourselves as being the champions and being in a position to fight for first place. Right now we’re not in that position at all. … OK, we still can fight and get back into that second playoff spot without too much trouble, we just have more work to do.”