Named Louisville City FC’s first head coach on June 4, 2014, James O’Connor has guided the club to a pair of highly successful seasons, both of them capped by appearances in the United Soccer League’s Eastern Conference Final. Since entering the USL, LouCity has accumulated more points, goals and assists than any other club. Among his other accomplishments are coaching the 2015 USL MVP (Matt Fondy) and Defensive Player of the Year (Bryan Burke), as well as the 2016 Midseason MVP (Chandler Hoffman). Kyle Smith also went from open tryout signing to USL Midseason Rookie of the Year in 2016.
O’Connor’s quick start as a coach — he holds a UEFO PRO license — followed the Irishman’s storied playing career, first with English side Stoke City, where he tallied 16 goals in 176 appearances from 1996-2003. The midfielder also played for West Bromwich Albion, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday in Europe before finishing his playing career for Orlando City SC, then a fledgling USL side quick on its way to Major League Soccer. With Orlando, O’Connor both regular-season and playoff titles before named to coach LouCity, the Lions’ affiliate after their transition to MLS.
In his first year as head coach, O’Connor led LouCity to a quick start, including a 2-0 win over Saint Louis FC in the club’s inaugural game on March 28, 2015. On its way to a 14-8-6 USL finish, LouCity made a strong showing in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, navigating into the fourth round before falling in extra time to MLS’ Chicago Fire. O’Connor and LouCity also defeated Orlando City SC in a friendly at Slugger Field on Aug. 25, 2015, flashing form that would earn the club a USL playoff bye. LouCity fell to eventual champion Rochester in the league semifinal.
O’Connor did a masterful job in 2016 after losing Fondy, who scored a USL-record 22 goals in 28 games, as well as Burke and midfielder Juan Guzman to higher-level clubs. LouCity tallied even more points than in 2015 — 60, up from 48 — and pieced together a 17-game unbeaten streak that stretched from early April through mid-July. A tight battle for first place in the Eastern Conference went to the New York Red Bulls II, though LouCity posted impressive marks in goals (52) and goals allowed (27) in 2016. The club won a pair of playoff games before falling to the Red Bulls who, as with Rochester, went on to take the title.
2017 was the year O'Connor claimed his prize, though, helping lead LouCity through a regular season that saw them finish in first place in the Eastern Conference, amassing 62 points from 32 games and a record of 18-8-6 (W-D-L). O'Connor's squad began their playoff run with a 4-0 thrashing of Bethlehem Steel FC before wrestling through to a 1-0 win over the Rochester Rhinos in the Conference Semifinal. Facing New York Red Bulls II in the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in as many seasons, O'Connor & crew were victorious on this go-round, defeating the visitors 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw took them to extra time.
The crowning achievement of the club so far, O'Connor then led his side to the 2017 USL Cup Final against Western Conf. representative Swope Park Rangers on Monday, November 13. Gritting their way through a frigid night at Slugger Field, LouCity forward Cameron Lancaster headed his side in front in the 88th minute, a goal that would lead the club to their first-ever USL Cup.