Louisville City won the team’s second consecutive USL Cup on thursday night, making the Kentucky club to be the first ever team in the USL to win back-to-back championships.
Both teams were looking to make history in this game. Phoenix Rising FC, coming off their best season ever and winning the western conference of the USL for the first time in the clubs history, looked to add another trophy with a USL Cup win. The Arizona club also had Chelsea FC legend and fan favorite Didier Drogba playing in his last professional game, for the stakes were high for both the clubs and the fans to give him a proper send off.
Louisville City FC were looking to win the club’s second consecutive USL Cup and become the first team in the league to accomplish this feat. Hosting the match and partnered with a sold out crowd that supported them all the way to the final, the Kentucky side did just that. Although in the first half it didn’t look too promising for the purple and gold.
In the fifth minute, Phoenix Rising were awarded a free kick 45 yards out, with the Chelsea FC legend unleashing a deadly dipping ball that forced Louisville City goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh to make a parrying save to deny Drogba an early goal.
Rising FC’s best chance would come in the 24th minute after Didier Drogba played an incredible elastico through ball to Jamaican winger Jason Johnson, running through Louisville’s defense and firing a determined effort from 25 yards out. The ball would deflect off of Louisville defender Paco Craig’s leg, but Greg Ranjitsingh managed to pull of some great reflexes to deny Phoenix Rising a goal. Phoenix Rising would have a few more chances, but ultimately the first half would end 0-0.
In the second half, the hosts started off more confidently. Attacking midfielder Brian Ownby had a great chance five minutes in, taking down a cross with his chest, only to sky it past the left post.
Redemption came for the hosts in the 62nd minute as Louisville City gained a corner kick. Oscar Jimenez sent in a curving corner kick, which was headed across by defender Paco Craig to Ilija Ilic, whose overhead kick was deflected off the line by loanee defender Tristian Blackmon, and then finally was slotted home by forward Luke Spencer to give a 1-0 lead to the hosts.
Brian Ownby nearly made it 2-0 to Louisville City after a breakaway attempt, but Ownby was unable to get the ball past Rising FC goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski. The final whistle would blow only minutes later and Louisville City would go on to win the club’s second consecutive USL Cup title.
This game was not only huge for both teams, but also the fans and the growth of American soccer. Although the MLS playoffs have been just as entertaining, The third division of U.S. Soccer is seeing some massive growth and should definitely not be shrugged off. With leagues like the USL, we could see some much needed growth in the lower levels of U.S. Soccer.
Luke Stergiou can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org