Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds
More than a year ago, three knee surgeries already undergone, Luke Spencer thought his soccer career may have been over.
Now, he’s Louisville City FC’s most efficient scorer.
The hulking Cincinnati native scored his ninth goal of the season Saturday in a 3-0 away victory over Pittsburgh Riverhounds, a menace to the defense for all 90 minutes.
After sliding a shot just wide of the post in the 16th minute, the 26-year-old though took his chance in the 33rd minute, latching on to a beautiful pass into the box from teammate Mark-Anthony Kaye,. Spencer took one touch to control the ball, then fired the go-ahead shot.
The goal was the latest in a string of strong performances for Spencer. Whether starting or coming off the bench, in his last nine appearances, Spencer has scored five goals on nine shots on target, an impressive strike rate for anyone in the league.
Spencer’s run of good form comes in a stretch where the boys in purple have won seven of their last nine games.
“I just try to embrace whatever situation that I’m in,” Spencer said. “Coming in off the bench, I’ve tried to embrace the positives of that. It means I have more energy to use in a certain amount of time. An opponent might be more tired. And if I’m starting, hopefully I have more time and chances to execute. I really focus on the pregame film we go over and the tactics that allow me to have the opportunities.”
Spencer has produced despite splitting time with forwards Cameron Lancaster and Ilija Ilic. A former first-round MLS SuperDraft pick, Spencer has totaled 1,004 minutes played of a possible 2,250 this season, just 14th-most on the team in time on the pitch. He's hitting the back of the net once every 111 minutes,.
Making the most of his opportunities is something Spencer appreciates at this stage of his career. After missing three years of action due to complications with a torn ACL, Spencer wasn’t sure he’d ever return to the field again.
It’s why he doesn’t mind coming off the bench or being subbed off early. Every minute is one more as a professional, a privileged few in the world get to experience.
“They changed my mentality,” Spencer said of the injuries. “It’s night and day. I had three knee surgeries in a year, year and a half. There were times I didn’t think I was ever going to play again. Then I got to a point where I was playing again but didn’t necessarily get playing time (last season at FC Cincinnati). Now, any minute I’m on the field I’m trying to take advantage and enjoy being able to play in games.”
In addition to shots taken Saturday, one he didn't get to attempt in the 54th minute -- a defender pushed him in the box -- led to teammate Devon "Speedy" Williams' first goal of the year on the ensuing penalty kick.
Louisville City could well be the first club in USL history to have 16 players score in a season, but perhaps more important heading into the home stretch of the regular season, Spencer is emerging as a target his teammates can count on to score goals on a regular basis.
Opinions expressed in this piece were not subject to club approval. For more insights on LouCity, follow former Courier-Journal reporter Dan Karell on Twitter: @DanKarellPreps.