Bee Buck / Bee Buck Photography
Brian Ownby sat out of Louisville City FC's last game with a strain in his side, and Paolo DelPiccolo exited in the first half with a hamstring issue. Combine that with George Davis IV's recent knee tweak, and coach James O'Connor would appear to have a short squad.
Not this week, though -- not with the potential of a Slugger Field capacity crowd of 13,131 on hand Saturday for LouCity's final game this year against rival FC Cincinnati.
"That’s where, for me, it becomes a challenge because you’ve got guys who are maybe carrying knocks and niggles," O'Connor said, "but they’re so desperate to play. They’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s great. It’s fine.’ And I’m like, is it really, or are you desperate to play?”
A bit of both, it would appear.
All three midfielders returned to training ahead of a key stretch in the schedule. While LouCity sits fourth on the USL Eastern Conference table, each team ahead of the boys in purple has played more games, creating an opportunity to catch up.
What a better time to start than against your rival?
“They all want to be available. They all want to play. I think it’s fantastic,” O’Connor said.
Earlier this season, on April 22, LouCity and FC Cincinnati played to a 1-1 draw at Nippert Stadium. The orange and blue then came away with a victory in front of a LouCity-record 11,632 fans at Slugger Field. In front of a possible sellout crowd Saturday, LouCity will get another chance.
“We want the crowds to come out because it definitely adds a 12th man out there on game day,” said Luke Spencer, a Cincinnati-native and former FCC player. “You hear the crowd going. You just give that extra little bit of effort.”
Former LouCity striker Chandler Hoffman opened the FC Cincinnati rivalry by notching a first half hat trick. In the offseason, Cincy made headlines by signing two LouCity players, Aodhan Quinn and Kadeem Dacres. After the April 22 game, the USL saddled Cincinnati striker Djiby Fall with a suspension for violent misconduct on the pitch.
The rivalry resumes Saturday. LouCity announced more than 48 hours in advance that 10,000 tickets were already sold, a record pre-sale for the third-year club.
“It’s nice to have the added hype around the city,” said defender Sean Totsch. “You’ll go out and people know about the team. People are asking about it. If I’m wearing a Louisville City shirt or a polo or something, someone comes up and is like, ‘Hey I went to the game last week. You guys are awesome.’
“So that’s the coolest part for me — being around town and seeing the energy and the excitement people have about the team.”
LouCity’s attendance is up 20 percent over this point in 2016, with the average attendance at the first eight home games 8,715.
O’Connor, around since the club’s beginnings, has witnessed steep growth — from people wondering whether LouCity would last in the community to what’s next. Saturday, his team plays a must-see game.
“There was some skepticism, and I think we’ve moved way beyond that,” the coach said. “…I think when you speak to our supporters, they’re really passionate about the team and the club. There’s a real excitement and a real affiliation building between the people an the club, which is in essence what you’re striving for.”