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When LouCity, Rising FC, and Didier Drogba put the USL Championship on the map

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 07/19/22, 9:00AM EDT


Through the words of those who were part of it, relive the 2018 USL Championship Final

Phoenix Rising FC and legendary forward Didier Drogba and defending USL Championship title holders Louisville City FC took center stage in in one of the most significant games in league history. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

On Wednesday night, Louisville City FC and Phoenix Rising FC will meet in the USL Summer Showcase at Lynn Family Stadium (7 p.m. ET | ESPN2 | Tickets). The game will mark the first meeting between the clubs since they played in the 2018 USL Championship Final, when LouCity took a 1-0 victory against a Phoenix side led by Didier Drogba in front of a sold-out crowd at Lynn Stadium.

We spoke with numerous key figures in that contest – including those still at both clubs – to revisit one of the landmark games in the USL Championship’s history, one which still resonates today and provided a launching point for the league’s current position in the North American landscape.

Part 1: The Drogba Revolution

Didier Drogba addresses the crowd following his arrival at Phoenix Rising FC on April 23, 2017. | Photo courtesy Phoenix Rising FC

During the offseason prior to the 2017 season, Rising FC underwent a facelift. A new ownership group led by Club Governor Berke Bakay and featuring celebrity investors Diplo, Pete Wentz and Brandon McCarthy relaunched the club as Phoenix Rising FC, built a new soccer-specific home, and then to cap it all signed soccer legend Didier Drogba to go with former Premier League players Shaun Wright-Phillips, Peter Ramage and Jordan Stewart.

Carl Woszczynski, Goalkeeper, Phoenix Rising FC (2015-19): I had a feeling that something good could come out of Arizona. Obviously, the different crowds here, passionate soccer fans all around the valley. So that was one of the reasons I decided to come. Then we saw that really start taking shape in 2017 with the new ownership group, the change to Phoenix Rising. And then from there, we kind of knew the sky was the limit.

Jason Johnson, Forward, Phoenix Rising FC (2017-19): Obviously, you could just imagine the excitement not just for me but from the entire team. Shaun Wright-Phillips had played with [Drogba] at Chelsea and against him while he was at Man City, he himself had a big history in the game as well, so just being at Phoenix with those guys before even Didier was there was a great excitement already, but to add him as well just made it over the top, you know?

Woszczynski: It didn't really hit at that point until he literally walked into the locker room, looking me in the eye, put his hand out, shook my hand and said “Hi, I’m Didier.” I'm thinking to myself, “yeah, no kidding.” Here I am saying “Hi, I’m Carl.”

Joe Farrell, Defender, Phoenix Rising FC (2018-present): I wasn't sure how invested he would be in the training sessions, or in the games, things like that. But when I got here, he was in practice every single day, he was staying after practice to help some of the younger guys do finishing drills and working on his game as well.

Didier Drogba with teammates Amadou Dia (left) and Kevon Lambert (right) at training with Phoenix Rising FC. | Photo courtesy Phoenix Rising FC

Woszczynski: Anytime in small-sided if he asked for the ball from a goalkeeper, I learned quickly you give him the ball. Even if you think he’s in the worst possible position with two defenders on his back and a defender in front of him, if you give him the ball, he was able to make magic with it. That was amazing to be able to witness firsthand every day.

Farrell: I remember plenty of memories where he would stay after practice. He would set a full-size goal up on the 18 and he would shoot free kicks like that was the wall. He would go up and over a full-size goal into a goal on the end line. Seeing his commitment to the game, the commitment to skill, but also the commitment to the guys in locker room was something that I always take away with me.

Phoenix advanced to the USL Championship Playoffs for the first time in 2017 before falling in a penalty shootout to open the postseason. The following offseason, they added not only Farrell, but future two-time MVP Solomon Asante for the 2018 campaign, and found another level, finishing third in the Western Conference.

Solomon Asante, Forward, Phoenix Rising FC (2018-21): We had a good preseason. We had good leadership. Yeah, we had respected players and committed players. I think everything was on course. It was very easy because we had the talent, and with the hard work, everything was easy.

Kevon Lambert, Midfielder, Phoenix Rising FC (2017-present): I think we were just all locked in and focused on the task that we had in front of us. Everything was just, we wanted to win, and that’s all.

Amadou Dia, Defender, Phoenix Rising FC (2017-2019): We were a very close group from the veterans to the young players, and every day we just had a lot of fun, and we enjoyed being in each other’s company. But as soon as we stepped on the field, it was competitive like no other.

Farrell: I remember the home playoff games, there wasn’t an empty seat at the stadium. And it was even to the point where all the standing room, it wasn’t just one row of people standing, it was four or five or six rows of people standing watching the game. The atmospheres were crazy.

With Drogba leading the way, scoring in each of the club’s first three postseason games, Phoenix earned a 2-1 victory on the road against top-seeded Orange County SC to claim the Western Conference title and a place in the Championship Final.

Phoenix Rising FC's players celebrate a goal before a large contingent of travelling support during their Western Conference Final victory against Orange County SC. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

Woszczynski: Kudos to the ownership group, they paid for the buses, bussed out a ton of fans. I still think we had more fans there than they did. I guess that’s up for debate, but it was an incredible environment.

Farrell: There was more red jerseys than orange jerseys in the crowd.

Woszczynski: Then seeing the passion and the joy on Didier’s face again after winning a USL Western Conference championship, which to him we would think would be nothing, but he was just as excited as you see him celebrating winning the Premier League, or the Champions League.

Asante: Everyone wanted to perform, because you’re playing alongside a big player, so you want to perform always. We gave everything. And after that we were very happy.

Farrell: Being able to go through those three games, coming out on top of in all of them, we were confident headed into the final. All our focus was on winning that last game.

Part 2: Going Back-to-Back?

Louisville City FC had claimed its first USL Championship title in 2017, and a year later returned to defend its title. In the 12 months between, however, the club had seen its first Head Coach James O’Connor and his staff depart for Orlando City SC, resulting in three players – Luke Spencer, George Davis IV, and Paolo DelPiccolo – serving as interim coaches before John Hackworth was appointed as O’Connor’s official successor.

Paolo DelPiccolo, Midfielder, Louisville City FC (2016-present): That year was an absolute roller coaster. Oh, my goodness. All those things coming together and how they happened, it was either going to be that we won the championship, which we did, or we imploded and finished ninth.

Luke Spencer, Forward, Louisville City FC (2017-2021): I think 2017 proved that we were a really good team and a really good group. We all got along. We all knew that we could achieve a lot. And we were battle tested. We didn't know how battle tested we were until that situation happened.

Louisville City FC's Luke Spencer served as one of three interim player-coaches that became known as "The Triumvirate" between the departure of James O'Connor and appointment of John Hackworth. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

George Davis IV, Forward, Louisville City FC (2016-21): [John Hackworth] didn't want to come in and rock the boat. He was hired a couple of weeks prior to his arrival, so we were able to communicate with him – me, Luke, and Paolo – prior to his arrival and in preparation of some of our matches towards the end of our stint just so that he was aware of what we were doing, what our plans were, what our game plan was.

John Hackworth, Head Coach, Louisville City FC (2018-21): I walked into the door, and it was a unique situation. What I would tell you that I remember very vividly was that the players themselves were such a strong group that the transition in mid-year wasn't as difficult because those players, they had already been through a lot.

Davis: As players, we were looking to him for input and advice. When he when he came into the club, it was quite impressive that, he saw what we had, he saw the strength of the group, and he only wanted to supplement that.

DelPiccolo: When you look at the group of guys that whole year, I just really felt that there was never a chance that group would let each other down and implode. … It’s probably the proudest season of my life to play with those guys and go through what we went through.

Greg Ranjitsingh, Goalkeeper, Louisville City FC (2015-18): I think it even brought us together more because we had to have each other’s backs. I thought as a group, we really grew. Obviously, we faced that adversity, but it made us even stronger. So, when Hack came in, honestly, we had built such a strong relationship with each other, Hack just had to put the final touches on the entire project.

Part 3: Dueling Narratives

Phoenix Rising FC captain Didier Drogba speaks at the 2018 USL Championship Final pregame press conference. The game was expected to be his last in the professional ranks. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

After Louisville City FC ran past the New York Red Bulls II in a Friday night clash, Phoenix Rising FC earned its first silverware with a 2-1 victory on the road against Orange County SC to win the Western Conference. That set up two main narratives for the build-up – could LouCity become the first team to win consecutive titles, or would Didier Drogba go out in what was expected to be his final professional game a winner?

Asante: We knew that it would be [Didier’s] last game, so we had a meeting and we said to ourselves, we have to prove something. We have to make this happen. We knew after the game, we would not see him again for a long time, he would not play with us again. It was emotional.

Niall McCabe, Midfielder, Louisville City FC (2015-present): I don't think we actually cared [that it was potentially Drogba’s last game]. I don’t think he actually came out and said it. Personally, that was just another team and a player standing in our way to become back-to-back champions, you know? Whatever motivation they had to send their player out on a high, I would say we had an even greater motivation to go back-to-back.

Farrell: Having the pressure of, yes, it’s one of the best players the USL has ever seen, it’s his final season, and he’s had a hell of a career. We were doing everything we could to [send him] out on top.

Davis: For me, Drogba was a guy that I had watched for a long, long time before I was even a pro. You look up to players like that, knowing what he was able to do throughout his career both at a club level and international level. We idolize this man, so to have the opportunity to play against him, it was an awesome thing and awesome experience, but at the end of the day, you can't really be a big fan when he’s your opponent.

Paco Craig, Defender, Louisville City FC (2015-19): Weirdly enough, growing up as a kid and growing up playing football I was at West Ham’s Academy. Watching Drogba play for Chelsea, I was counting the years – “If I make it as a professional at 19 and debut in the Premier League, then I’ll get to play against Drogba, I’ll get to see what it feels like to defend against him.” – Obviously, that didn’t happen, that wasn't in my future, but the world has a funny way of spinning around and I got given another opportunity.

Louisville City FC's George Davis IV in action during the 2018 USL Championship Final. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Brian Ownby, Forward, Louisville City FC (2016-present): I think I had a pretty good postseason that year [Editor’s Note: Ownby had recorded three goals in the prior two postseason games], and they had an image with me on one side and Drogba on the other. I thought that was pretty cool, because he’s somebody obviously I grew up watching when he was at Chelsea when I was a young kid.

Woszczynski: I think for all of us, knowing that we can help a legend of the game like Didier Drogba win one last title, at our level and a first title for many of us as well, it was a lot of added adrenaline and excitement.

Hackworth: The mentality was never about, “Oh, we’re playing Drogba.” It was like, “Okay, this is a Phoenix Rising team, they earned our respect, and now we’re going to take them down, one way or another. This is how we're going to play it, this is how we’re going prepare.” Our mentality was, we’re going to go out and win that game.

Lambert: We knew in the back of our heads that this is the final one. This is the last step. We've made it so far right now and we just need to stay focused. Just one more game one more win. We were all locked in, trying to stay focused. We were just hoping to come home victorious.

Part 4: Counting Down to Kickoff

Phoenix Rising FC captain Didier Drogba and Louisville City FC captain Paolo DelPiccolo following the pregame cointoss at the 2018 USL Championship Final. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

After the pregame buildup to a Thursday night clash on ESPN2 – marking the first time the Championship Final had aired on the network – the morning of the game dawned a crisp November day.

Johnson: We knew the weather was going be different, because we’re coming from Phoenix and the desert to Louisville, where it was very cold compared to Phoenix.

Asante: When we were having lunch, we didn't see Didier and we were like, “where is he?” He went out to buy some [cold-weather] clothes. It was cold, you have to get all those things, he bought it for us.

Woszczynski: I thought the environment was incredible. Obviously, a packed house, a little cold for us Arizonans, but other than that, yeah, it was it was phenomenal.

While LouCity was host, its preparations took on an extra layer thanks to the club’s operations team.

Alexis Souahy, Defender, Louisville City FC (2018-21): It was just a usual gameday. The only different thing was we got escorted from the apartments. That was a very cool thing.

Hackworth: Our team admin Andrew DiLallo did everything possible to make our team feel like you know, this was a championship. We met at the apartments where the players live, we got our bus, we were escorted by the police. DiLallo did a phenomenal job.

Davis: I remember the bus being very quiet all the way to the stadium, just guys kind of being in the zone with not much to say. Then we pulled up to the stadium and you see how many people were there so early. And that’s when you kind of start to get the chills and get the goosebumps. Seeing the cameras coming off the coach, that’s when you notice, “OK, this is it, it’s time.”

Spencer: Naturally you’re going to have some nerves and you’re going to have a lot of thoughts going on in your head. It always helps to be around teammates. That helped take the edge off a little bit because you know, you have all your teammates that have your back going into the same final with you.

Part Five: Out of the Tunnel, Onto the Field

With a sellout crowd on hand at Lynn Stadium, including a hardy contingent of travelling support, it was time for final preparations and a later than usual kickoff at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Dia: We were ready to go as soon as we got there. We were all locked in, focused, and we tried to get this game going and try to do everything we can to win.

Spencer: I just remember sitting in the locker room talking with Paolo. I think we had an hour until kickoff and I was talking with him about how long the day had been and that we still had an hour until kickoff. We couldn't believe it because we were just ready to kick off right now.

Woszczynski: [Didier] was always a great leader, both on the field and in the locker room. One of the things he told us [pregame] was these are the memories that you’ll never forget, playing for big cup titles. Some of the best memories of your life, he said, so take it all in, relax and then at the end of the day, it feels a lot better winning the championship than not winning it.

DelPiccolo: Whenever you do the walkout, I’m always right next to the other captain, and I remember thinking, “Drogba is bigger than I ever could have imagined.” I knew he was a big player, but he was just such a unit out there.

Craig: Having a father who is also famous and known around the world [Editor’s Note: Craig’s father is Culture Club bassist Mikey Craig], I've never really been fazed by famous people or celebrities when I see them in public but standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Drogba, it was an incredible experience. He felt bigger than he was. I think I’m near enough the same height as him, but he looked like he was three inches taller.

Ranjitsingh: I my family had come, drove down from Toronto to watch the game and I was able to bring my cousin, Blake, out [with me]. He was one of the ball boys, and I was actually more excited for him to see Drogba, because he’s a young soccer player who aspires to be a professional. I looked over at him and said, “hey, there’s Drogba”, gave him a little nod. … It was definitely really cool.

As the game got underway, it took only five minutes for Drogba to get in an early warning shot.

Spencer: I’m standing in front of it, and I’m thinking, “there's no way he’s shooting this.” And next thing you know he’s lining up, looking at the goal. I'm thinking “No, he’s absolutely shooting this.”

Dia: Every time he lined up for any type of shot and you were on the field there's a chance it’s going to go in. So, every time he lines up – whether it’s 45 yards, 25 yards – I'm thinking in my head, “OK, this is probably going to go in.”

Spencer: I’m thinking, “Do I actually jump and try to block this, or do I just stand here and play dumb like he's not going to shoot it?”

Ranjitsingh: All season, I had never seen a shot come at me the way his shot came. I mean, it was knuckling, left, right, up and down. Honestly, the ball was making a whistling noise when it was just flying through the air.

Johnson: I knew all three attackers were just thinking, “follow in for the rebound, just in case the ‘keeper saves and spills it,” because we knew he was going to hit it on target. It was just up to the ‘keeper if he was good enough to save it.

Ranjitsingh: I tried to catch it, honestly. I tried to catch it, but I bobbled it and it went out for a corner. But it was one of those ones like, “OK, you really got to be watching this ball, because it really is dancing through the air.”

Craig: [I was thinking] this guy really has the balls, the confidence in himself to think he can just pull up from anywhere. So, it upped the ante a bit a little bit to say, well if he’s going to do that, then what else has he got in store for the game?

Ranjitsingh made another key save on the other big moment of the first half, denying Jason Johnson’s deflected shot.

Ranjitsingh: Being able to get that first big save [on Drogba], just to get the ball, touch the ball and be able to make that save was really big for my confidence and growing into the rest of the game.

Johnson: I really thought the deflection would have beaten him. I thought it was a really good save, because he was going to the right side the shot was going and then it deflected, but his reaction was very good to parry it out.

Ranjitsingh: Luckily you know, my feet are set and I’m able to make the save.

McCabe: That was a big save, because we didn't really have that many chances. I think we had most of the ball, we played most of the football, but I feel like in that first half we couldn’t create many clear-cut opportunities.

Part Six: A Scramble, and a Breakthrough

The game went to the break scoreless, leaving both teams happy. As the second half began, LouCity began to take the initiative.

Hackworth: We talked about a little tweak between the positioning in between Niall and Ilija [Ilic]. And then, you know, that it was just going to be more like one of these “take advantage of the moment” kind of situations.

Craig: I think I remember mentioning at halftime to start serving the ball back post, because I saw there was a gap there. All I needed was half-a-chance to fight through it.

Spencer: On the corner kick, it’s about getting to your spot. We talked about getting to your zone and making sure that you’re in your zone, which I was, and then the instincts take over.

Farrell: I’m in the zone there on a corner kick on the six. It was just beyond me. I went out to move toward that way, but I couldn't really challenge the ball completely.

Souahy: Paco headed it to me. I headed to Ilie [Ilija Ilic]. He tried to bike it and got blocked.

Woszczynski: As that ball’s bouncing, you’re obviously calling “away”, hoping we get a clear. As soon as they got the shot off, you put the effort in, but there’s probably not going to be much hope of keeping it out.

Spencer: I remember that as the ball popped up, instincts came over. It was “make clean contact, put it on frame, hit it low.”

Ownby: Everybody was fighting to try to get that ball in the net and, thankfully, Luke was there to bury it.

Craig: Obviously, you can say we got lucky. But as you know in football and in any sports, luck is always going to be part of it.

Hackworth: You’re so excited in that moment, but it is about two seconds before I go back to “Alright, get back.” Now we have to get our shape right. Now we got the lead, now we have to buckle down. … We rallied around saying, “hey, the next five.” The next five minutes were huge. You can see Danny [Cruz] and me gesturing from the side, “five minutes, next five minutes.”

Despite going behind, with Drogba having scored in every game of the postseason prior to the Final, and the side’s other attacking pieces, the mood wasn’t down on Phoenix’s side.

Farrell: Having Didier on our side, I knew it wasn’t over. I knew that we would get some chances.

McCabe: They had a knock-down, Drogba knocked it down to somebody – can't remember who it was for. I think [Souahy] or Paco made a great clearance from inside the six-yard box.

Farrell: There’s one that I always get back to. There was a deeper free kick, and I go up to Didier and I say “Didier, if you challenge the first ball, I’ll make the second run and just head straight to the goal.” Someone served in a great ball, Didier knocked down the first header just as he said he would, and I was probably a foot away from finishing it. I was inches away.

Craig: I looked around to my right and saw a really dangerous area that we weren't really covering and there was [Farrell]. I just thought he’s definitely going to head into somewhere in this area. Sure enough, Drogba wins the head on, it bounces down on the penalty spot for one of them to get there and I just get my toe on it and just swiped over the bar.

Johnson: There was a long ball played, I laid it off to Didier and then ran in behind and he played me in behind and I cut in to take the shot. I knew last minute I should have faked that shot and cut it again because I knew the defender was going to slide, but I took the shot. I still think about that.

Craig: He tried to come in onto his left side and I blocked the shot. When you start adding plays like that which are quite pivotal, quite impactful to watch for your teammates, it just empowers each other.

LouCity withstood Phoenix’s pressure, and then had a chance to ice the game as Ownby went on a counterattack down the left to get onto a through-ball by Craig and in one-on-one with Woszczynski only to have his chance saved.

Spencer: I had nothing left in my legs, and he ran past me like it was nothing. I remember thinking “thank God it’s Brian on the ball instead of me because I can’t run anymore.”

Ownby: I remember I just took off with the ball and kind of drew from one 18 to the other end. I probably could have either dished it off to somebody in the box but at that point, I was winded. Their defender really caught back up to me after a 90-yard sprint.

Davis: I absolutely thought he was going to score, I'm like “icing on the cake, we're going to crack this here, game over.”

Hackworth: I've been fortunate to be around Ownby since he was a teenager. I love him. And I wanted to strangle him at that moment because he didn’t finish that.

The one-goal game meant the door was still ajar for Phoenix as it earned one final corner kick.

Farrell: [Drogba] was on a bunch of corner kicks and free kicks in that game but this one in particular, Solo put in. Obviously, we all remember Didier and his ability to finish off his head throughout his career, his Champions League Final success and his near-post header against Bayern.

Ranjitsingh: It was just like, fight or flight at that moment. Just get the job done.

McCabe: Leading up to it like, I know he's going get his head around it. I’m just praying that it’s not like against Bayern Munich.

Craig: Those kind of moments do seem to last a little bit longer. I will admit that, as soon as he’s going up for it, time seems to freeze a bit and then one moment feels like five or six seconds.

Asante: I thought that was going to be a goal, you know.

Dia: It was kind of slow motion, because I saw the play, and I was just waiting for somebody to be at the back post, where nobody was. As soon as I saw that, I was “oh, that was it, that was our chance.”

Part Seven: Turn out the Lights

Moments after what proved the last shot of Drogba’s career, the final whistle arrived, and LouCity’s celebration was on.

Craig: Since I’m a big fan, I kind of did a quick fist pump, and then just went straight over to Drogba and said, “like thank you for the game. I'm a Chelsea fan, and I just want to say like, like I really appreciate you as a player,” gave him his dues. Respectfully asked for his jersey. He said he’d already promised it to someone else.

McCabe: I just remember running around, trying to grab anyone.

Ranjitsingh: I just screamed. I ran and screamed at the top of my lungs. It was just really, ever so rewarding for everyone.

Louisville City FC goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh celebrates following the final whistle of the 2018 USL Championship Final. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Spencer: I just remember thinking what a special group of guys. I remember thinking to myself that I’m not sure a group like that could ever happen again, those opportunities that we had could ever happen again.

Ownby: I took off onto the field. You know, it’s rare that teams go back-to-back, whatever sport, whatever division. I was just pure joy, happy that we were able to do it.

Phoenix’s mood was understandably more subdued.

Lambert: If you give it your all, it doesn't happen to go your way, that’s just how the sport is, how sports on the whole is. You think you do everything that you can, but it just happens that some things don't go as well as you want them to go.

Farrell: Definitely disappointment, but at that point, that was some of the strongest leadership I've ever seen from Didier Drobga. After the game, we went over to our fans section, and the fans were close to tears, the players were close to tears, but Didier was holding his head up high, so as players we were holding our heads up high.

Dia: I know like some of the guys like Drogba could were out there watching the ceremony and the trophy lift and everything and I couldn't do that. I just had to go to the locker room and try to get my thoughts together.

Farrell: I remember we headed over to actually watch Louisville receive their trophy. I was standing right next to Didier and the feelings I had and the look on his face were similar, but the way he was able to hold his head high and walk off that field proudly – I remember him carrying a Rising flag on his shoulders, lifting it up as well. He was proud. So, we were all proud.

Woszczynski: I think it just shows the class that that he had as a person and player, despite losing what we knew could be the last game. He still realized that these things are important for a football club and for the fans to see. He took that leadership to make sure we all did that properly.

For LouCity, the celebration continued well into the night.

Louisville City FC's Paco Craig and Greg Ranjitsingh celebrate following the 2018 USL Championship Final, which saw the club become the first to earn back-to-back league titles. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Davis: Absolute scenes.

Ranjitsingh: It was such a long year for us, even though it was good, and we all stuck through it, now finally the work’s done. We had worked so hard and now it’s “alright, let's enjoy this moment.” It was one of the best nights in my football career for sure.

Souahy: The first thing I can think of right now is seeing Hackworth dance in the locker room with us. He was so loose, you know?

Ownby: I just remember sitting on one of the steps, because the locker room kind of like goes down two steps and the lockers are above. And I just remember sitting there, drinking a beer, and everything we've worked on kind of hit me. Everything we've worked on in the year led up to this moment. It was just like pure exhaustion, but joy at the same time.

Craig: Whenever we used to win, it used to be my kind of throwbacks [on the stereo]. Everyone wants to have a good time, so I'm putting on Chaka Khan, I Feel for You, I’m trying to put on maybe some Michael Jackson. I'm trying to put on throwbacks that just encapsulate, dancing, moving, energy.

Spencer: It was a really, really special group and a really, really special year. And it’s one that I'll remember for the rest of my life.

Part Eight: The Aftermath

Louisville City FC captain Paolo DelPiccolo lifts the trophy at the 2018 USL Championship Final, the club's second in as many seasons. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Through a combination of the teams, the storylines, the sellout crowd and nationwide audience, the 2018 Championship Final remains one of the most significant games in the Championship’s history, leading to a broader profile for the league in the past four years.

McCabe: It was a really, really proud moment. It was an amazing moment for me, just for to be on ESPN to be playing against such a great team, showcasing a probably underestimated league on national television.

Woszczynski: In 2012, when I started in the league and signed my first contract with the LA Blues [Editor’s Note: Now Orange County SC], never in a million-plus years would I think about Didier Drogba coming to the USL.

Davis: You look at even [LouCity] coming from the championship at Slugger Field, now we’re playing in a state-of-the-art facility. We see how much of an impact night’s like 2018 have had on our current success, on our current Academy players in our city.

Farrell: Being able to be a part of that part of that game was important, but for me, being able to be a part of that season and share locker room with Didier and the experiences and the wisdom that he shared down, just being able to listen … that was one of the greatest things. His character is unbelievable.

Ownby: I just remember the days when USL was getting YouTube for the stream. So, for that moment, you know, for these games to be on ESPN, I had friends back in Richmond, Virginia watch and family as well. It was something to look forward to.

Woszczynski: I think even since I've retired, the progress we've made, seeing the first Collective Bargaining Agreement and things like this are incredible for the league. I think it will not only help the USL, but soccer as a whole in America.

Davis: I felt like that was a year that raised the bar for the league, if I’m being honest. When you look at the quality of players and you look at the scenes and the excitement behind the match, it felt like the league took a step after 2018.

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