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LouCity's O'Connor announces returning players for 2017

By Jonathan Lintner / Louisville City FC, 11/11/16, 10:00AM EST

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The coach has back a number of key pieces from last season.

For the 2017 season, Louisville City FC will return at least 11 players from a roster that advanced to the United Soccer League's Eastern Conference Final, coach James O'Connor announced Thursday.

O'Connor elected to pick up options and offer new contracts to a strong nucleus of players, including USL Midseason Rookie of the Year Kyle Smith, second-leading scorer Guy Abend and Cameron Lancaster, who started at striker late in 2016.

Terms of the deals were not disclosed.

"I'm obviously really pleased to get the players re-signed," said O'Connor, who's preparing for his third season as LouCity's head coach. "It was really important that we got that core group back. When you look at the quality we have, I think we were all really pleased with them last year.

"Now it's a case of spending many hours going through tape and trying to get some other nice pieces to add to the quality that we feel we have returning from last season."

  • Tim Dobrowolski, who joined LouCity in June as a rookie out of Division I Loyola University Chicago, will return in goal.
     
  • At defender, Smith will be joined by Sean Reynolds, Tarek Morad and Paco Craig.
     
  • Midfielders back are Abend, Niall McCabe, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Paolo DelPiccolo, a University of Louisville product.
     
  • Ilija Ilic fills out the forward spot with Lancaster.

LouCity remains in close negotiations to return star goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh and George Davis IV, a veteran midfielder out of the University of Kentucky. Additionally, O'Connor will remain in contact with a trio of free agents from the midfield -- Aodhan Quinn, Kadeem Dacres and Andrew Lubahn -- who could potentially re-sign with LouCity.

"For those guys, they're obviously looking at different options and potential opportunities within (Major League Soccer)," O'Connor said. "Maybe it's the MLS preseason, or a contract, or a contract in Europe."

MORE: LouCity season tickets now on sale

Another top midfielder, Denmark native Magnus Rasmussen, has decided to remain overseas to continue his career. Defender Enrique Montano, a free agent after the 2016 season, signed with the USL's Sacramento Republic FC in his home state of California. Additionally, LouCity mutually agreed to part ways with forward Chandler Hoffman, its leading scorer from the 2016 season.

Other players not returning next year are defender Ben Newnam and forward Kenny Doublette.

"We wish Enrique, Kenny, Ben, Magnus and Chandler all the very best in the future and thank them for all their service to Louisville City, O'Connor said.

To fill the voids, priorities are shoring up the striker spot, seeking an attacking midfielder and securing a left-footed defender.

"It's a lot of work," the coach said between now and the start of the club's preseason in February.

"Recruiting is really, really important," O'Connor added. "It's trying to make sure that there are no surprises, and the guys we get are of the right level -- the right character -- and fit the criteria we're looking for."

O'Connor has given each of his returning players an offseason workout plan designed to bring them back to Louisville in shape. The coach proved highly successful seeking players in the past -- his first roster in 2015 also advanced to the Eastern Conference Final -- and he retained enough talent to post a 17-4-9 record in 2016.

RELATED: A look back at LouCity's top 2016 moments

LouCity's run included a stretch of 17 straight games unbeaten from April until late July. The club also won a pair of home playoff games before falling to the eventual USL champion New York Red Bulls II in the postseason.

"We feel with the guys that are coming back that we've got a really strong group," O'Connor said. "I think if they can do the things that we want in the offseason, they'll be better for it and help us going forward."