LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville City FC has played seven seasons in the USL Championship.
Now, thanks to a dramatic late penalty kick by Cameron Lancaster, the two-time title winners are going to a seventh consecutive Eastern Conference Final.
LouCity took a 1-0 victory against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday night before a crowd of 9,155 at Lynn Family Stadium in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires. The result set up a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final for LouCity with the Tampa Bay Rowdies next Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium, with a place in the 2021 USL Championship Final at stake.
Squaring off for the first time this season, the game opened evenly as Louisville held more possession and the Independence looked to break quickly when they got on the ball. The first good look for either side didn’t arrive until the 17th minute, however, as LouCity sprang Brian Ownby down the right side for a low cross that was half-cleared at the near post but only to Paolo DelPiccolo, who tried to curl a shot to the top-right corner from the top of the penalty area that Charlotte’s Austin Pack saved.
The hosts had another half-chance six minutes later as Ownby brought down a chipped pass over the top by Jonathan Gomez but had his shot blocked by Charlotte’s Christian Fuchs, while in the 33rd minute Lancaster also went close as he opened up to create a passing lane for Ownby as he moved into the right side of the penalty area, only for his effort past the advancing goalkeeper to slide just wide of the left post.
Charlotte had some dangerous moments as they tried to counterattack, and in the 37th minute Dane Kelly went for a spectacular effort that went side of the left post off a cross from Joel Johnson on the right. LouCity countered that effort with one of their own as DelPiccolo cleverly played a cross from the right side of the box that found Jorge Gonzalez, only for the Independence’s Kevin Riascos to step in front to block to safety.
LouCity had another chance 12 minutes into the second half when Ownby won possession in the right corner and quickly delivered a cross that Lancaster left for DelPiccolo, but the midfielder was unable to get full purchase on his finish which allowed Pack to save comfortably. The Independence goalkeeper then had to be brave in the 65th minute as Gonzalez tried to dig into a chance at the near post off a low cross by Corben Bone, but Pack and his defense were able to smuggle the ball to safety.
After mostly coming up empty in the final third over the opening three-quarters of the game, Charlotte began to find more joy as second half went on. In the 67th minute, Jake Areman curled a free kick from 25 yards out in the left channel over the wall and on target only for LouCity’s Chris Hubbard to move across well to save, while a few minutes later Hubbard was called on to make a far sharper save when Irvin Parra lined up a shot from distance to the top-right corner that took a good diving stop to keep out.
With three minutes to go, however, the decisive moment arrived thanks to LouCity’s future Real Sociedad player. Picking up possession on the left flank, Gomez took on his defender one-on-one, and after feinting to the goal line cut back onto his right foot. The defender went to ground, and handled just inside the penalty area, drawing the whistle for a penalty kick, and Lancaster made no mistake from the spot as he roofed his finish into the right side of the net above the dive of Pack as he went the right way.
With little time to respond, Charlotte had one late chance in stoppage time to send the game to extra time, but Jose Bizama’s header off a cross from the left by Jake Areman bounced tamely wide. After that, LouCity saw out the remaining two minutes to secure another historic postseason victory.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Brian Ownby, Louisville City FC – Ownby provided attacking impetus for LouCity whenever he got the opportunity, finishing with two shots and four key passes while winning 7 of 11 duels for the hosts.
LOU – Cameron Lancaster (Penalty Kick) 89’