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POINT-COUNTERPOINT – Is the End Near for LouCity?

By USLChampionship.com Staff, 10/31/19, 4:33PM EDT

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John Arlia says Louisville’s reign comes to an end on Saturday. Nicholas Murray isn’t so sure...


Will this Saturday night's pregame huddle be the last for Louisville City FC this season? | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Last weekend No. 4 seed Louisville City FC claimed its 12th consecutive home victory in the USL Championship Playoffs, defeating the No. 5 seed Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 at Slugger Field to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the fifth straight season.

On deck for the two-time defending champions is a trip to Highmark Stadium on Saturday night to face No. 1 seed Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which is coming off a historic 7-0 victory over No. 10 seed Birmingham Legion FC in the Conference Quarterfinals that saw Neco Brett join Dom Dwyer as the only players in league history with a four-goal outing in the postseason.

That sets the stage for what could be a classic Conference Semifinal between the two sides, as Louisville looks to keep its postseason magic going in search of a third consecutive title while the Hounds try to end LouCity’s reign and assert themselves as the new class of the Eastern Conference.

To dive deeper into the ramifications of this contest and give you some further intel as to which team might come out on top, USLChampionship.com staff writers John Arlia and Nicholas Murray decided to publicize their very real text conversation. 



John Arlia

So, Nicholas, remember that column I wrote about Louisville back in February?

The one about how Louisville won’t complete its three-peat?


Nicholas Murray

John Arlia

That’s the one. Want to know why I’m bringing it up now?

I have an idea…


Nicholas Murray

John Arlia

Yup, the end is near.

[Sighs], here we go again.


Nicholas Murray

John Arlia

I mean it just feels like everything is set up for Pittsburgh to put an end to Louisville’s run. The Hounds are unbeaten in their last 11 games (8-0-3) and have conceded just two goals over that stretch. They’ve been dominant at home, posting an unbeaten record at Highmark Stadium during the regular season (10-0-7) and should be feeling free after finally getting over the hump in the Conference Quarterfinals with a rout of Birmingham. I don’t expect it to go like that again but throw in the fact that Louisville has never won a road playoff game in its history and all the signs to me point to this being the end of LouCity’s run.

You’re right, Homer Simpson gifs aside, there’s no question this could be the end of Louisville’s reign as title-holder. But, as a habitual “well, actually” guy, I think you might be underestimating a few things Louisville has going in its favor.


Nicholas Murray

Yes, LouCity didn’t advance in each of its prior two road postseason contests. But did you know that since it was eliminated by the New York Red Bulls II in a penalty shootout in the Eastern Conference Final in 2016, it has posted the best regular-season road record of any team in the Eastern Conference?


Nicholas Murray

Louisville has won twice as many games on the road as it has lost, going 24-12-14 on its travels. It won at least seven road games in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons, and it’s also notched 85 goals across those 50 road games, which is a pretty fair clip as well.


Nicholas Murray

John Arlia

That’s certainly respectable, but I’m just not sure how much that wider sample size matters when it comes to facing this particular opponent. Louisville failed to score in a pair of contests against the Hounds this season – falling 1-0 at home and earning a 0-0 draw in Pittsburgh – and are winless against the side in their last four meetings dating back to last season.


John Arlia

Pittsburgh Head Coach Bob Lilley seems to have found a successful formula to corral Louisville’s attack, which as you nicely pointed out in the match preview has sputtered away from Slugger Field this season by posting an 11.2 shot conversion rate that ranked 27th out of 36 teams.


John Arlia

Lilley and standout midfielder Kenardo Forbes also have experience in this situation before, having led the Rochester Rhinos to a home victory over Louisville in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Again, very valid concerns for Louisville fans going into this one, and the eeriness of the parallels between 2015 and this matchup are there. Bob Lilley leading a team to the No. 1 seed in the East in his second season at the club: check. Louisville visiting a side that went undefeated at home in the regular season on an artificial surface: check. And you’d think this time Cape Verde forward Steevan Dos Santos will find a way to stay on the field for the full 90 minutes instead of getting sent off as he did late on for the Rhinos in that encounter.


Nicholas Murray

But, again, while I did point out that LouCity hasn’t necessarily fired on all cylinders offensively on the road this campaign, it has scored in every outing since it was held to a 0-0 draw at Highmark Stadium back on September 7. That’s in large part due to the innovative use of the club’s attacking pieces by Head Coach John Hackworth. The way he’s brought LouCity’s attack to life by electing to not play with a true out-and-out striker, instead effectively making Brian Ownby a false nine and letting his skilled players like Antoine Hoppenot, Niall McCabe and Magnus Rasmussen create paths to goal has been a masterstroke. To me, this feels like it’s going to be a very different game tactically from last time out, one that will keep the Hounds on their toes.


Nicholas Murray

John Arlia

Yeah, I can definitely see this playing out differently than the two regular-season meetings, which could be a treat for the neutrals as things may open up for a bit more offense. Pittsburgh will certainly need to be aware of Louisville’s transition game, which devastated Tampa Bay down the left and often gets the likes of Rasmussen and Napo Matsoso to make dangerous runs into the box.


John Arlia

However, I do think Lilley will have his guys well prepared for that as there’s plenty of film from the end of the regular season to study up on before taking the field. I think the key for Pittsburgh will be winning the first 15 minutes of each half, as the side will have to react well to this new LouCity attack and then deal with any halftime adjustments Hackworth may make during the break. If the Hounds get through those periods of play unscathed, I think they end Louisville’s reign atop the East.

The Hounds are a 68 percent favorite according to fivethirtyeight.com, so you’ve got that on your side. I did crush you in Pick ‘Em, though, so I guess we’ll see how it plays out. See you in the Slack channel Saturday?


Nicholas Murray

John Arlia

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