For the second consecutive season, Louisville City and Bethlehem Steel FC lock up in the USL Playoffs at Slugger Field. Last year's Quarterfinal matchup saw City advance with a comfortable 4-1 win, but this weekend's game is shaping up to be a more dangerous challenge.
City enters the weekend off the back of a 4-1 thrashing of Indy Eleven in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal round, with goals from Niall McCabe (2), Ilija Ilic, and Cameron Lancaster putting an exclamation on City's opening playoff game.
Meanwhile, the visitors come in having defeated Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC last weekend via a penalty kick shootout. Taking a 1-1 game into extra time, Pittsburgh restored their lead in the 105th minute before Steel FC's James Chambers pulled one back just four minutes later. It would take eight penalty tries for the Riverhounds to falter, while Steel FC held their ground all the way through to advance as one of two lower seeds in the Semifinal round.
When & Where
The match is set to take place on Saturday, October 27 at Slugger Field with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
RADIO: 790 WKRD
Where They Stand
#2 Louisville City FC:
18-6-9, 66 points - 2nd in EC
#6 Bethlehem Steel FC:
14-12-10, 50 points - 6th in EC
Last Time Out
In their first-ever postseason matchup, Louisville City hosted rival Indy Eleven in the first round of the USL Cup playoffs a week after City defeated the visitors 1-0 at Slugger Field.
With strong winds in the area, both sides battled for possession through the first 25 minutes of play in search for the night’s opening goal.
It was Louisville City who found the back of the net first.
With his side dominating time of possession entering the 27th minute, midfielder Oscar Jimenez slipped a free kick through the penalty box, finding Niall McCabe who put his side up, 1-0.
14 minutes would pass before Louisville City added to their one-goal lead.
After regaining possession, forward Ilija Ilic fired a right-footed shot from the center of the box, slipping one past Indy Eleven ‘keeper Owain Fon Williams to double the lead.
LouCity entered the half up two goals to none.
Just three minutes into the second 45, a déjà vu-esque moment saw McCabe finish off another one thanks to a Jimenez free kick, putting Louisville City ahead, 3-0.
With his side down three goals, Indy’s Soony Saad finished a strong 67th minute run through Louisville City defenders and scored the first and only goal for the visitors.
As if his record-breaking season wasn’t enough, forward Cameron Lancaster ripped a deep, bending free kick 6 minutes later to regain the three-goal lead.
Neither side would find the back of the net over the remaining 17 minutes as Louisville City knocked off Indy Eleven, 4-1.
Coach John Hackworth's pre-BST assessment
On facing a tough Steel FC side:
“I’m really impressed. Pittsburgh just doesn’t give up those goals, so for them to have given up two—give Bethlehem full credit. They pressed, put Pittsburgh in a tough position, then they executed… twice. I’m impressed by their mentality more than anything but also their belief. They just kept pushing and pushing and pushing and they earned a really impressive result.”
On the keys to the game:
“Bethlehem plays a similar style to us. [Coach] Brendan [Burke] and I worked together for many years so I think we have a lot of similar philosophies on how we want our teams to play, which is a good thing but is also difficult because he knows most of my secrets and how I want things to happen. I’m sure he’s doing everything he possibly can and he’s an extremely diligent coach in terms of doing all of his homework. It sets up as a really interesting battle between our two teams because of the similarities in style and our approach. At the end of the day, we have to give them absolute respect and there aren’t many teams that can get through a road test like that in the first round of the playoffs. We have to be ready for everything they are going to throw at us.”
On having not faced Steel FC during his tenure:
“Since I wasn’t here for either of [the past two meetings], I’m approaching this as a playoff game and the first time we’re seeing a team that, obviously having taken down a higher seed, we have to give them ultimate respect. I know coach Burke very well, I think he’s one of the best young coaches for sure in this league and so I’m trying to make sure our team is prepared to the best of our ability.”
On his relationship with Brendan Burke:
“We always have kept in touch. My oldest son in his first year was with Steel FC and went back and trained with Brendan. Obviously, that’s just one connection but we’ve stayed in touch and as he’s continued to take his coaching courses, we’ve stayed in touch. I feel like I’ve offered him advice when I can and I also wanted to pick his brain on the USL when I was looking at this opportunity in Louisville. There are a lot of different instances where we’ve reconnected and we know we can pick up the phone and reach each other at any moment.”
On the play of Oscar Jimenez this season:
“It’s just an execution on service, which is a little bit of a lost art. It’s a pass, but you have to be precise with it and he’s obviously proven that he’s the best guy on our team, and again, probably one of the best guys in this league, for sure.”
KY Lottery Kees to the Game
It's another home playoff contest for City as they prepare for Cinderella-side Steel FC on Saturday. Take a look at the KEES to the Game for the Eastern Conference Semifinal: