LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Elijah Wynder called game.
Through a goal by its 19-year-old Academy product, Louisville City FC took a 1-0 victory after extra time against the Tampa Bay Rowdies to earn the Eastern Conference title in the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs presented by Hisense, overcoming being reduced to 10 players late in regular time to reach the club’s fourth USL Championship Final before a crowd of 11,563 at Lynn Family Stadium.
LouCity’s fourth Championship Final appearance is the most in league history, with the two-time title winners set to face the winner of the Western Conference Final on Sunday night between San Antonio FC or Colorado Springs Switchbacks on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2 | ESPN Deportes | SiriusXM FC).
LouCity was down a man after midfielder Corben Bone was sent off late in the second half, and the Rowdies tried to take advantage as they set the tempo as extra time began. Steevan Dos Santos snapped a shot over the crossbar after the ball fell kindly in the penalty area for him after a contested header three minutes in on the first good look of the extra 30 minutes. Louisville proved resilient, and a series of chippy fouls from both sides served to break up play and allow the 10-player hosts to keep the game scoreless.
But then, after coming through in a key moment in the club’s Eastern Conference Semifinal victory a week ago, Wynder delivered again in the 108th minute. A corner kick from the left from Oscar Jimenez was swung into the near post, and when the Rowdies were unable to clear in a mad scramble at the top of the six-yard area the Louisville native fired home for his second goal of the season.
The Rowdies tried to find another gear in the remainder of the second period and almost forced a goalmouth scramble of their own two minutes later, only for LouCity’s defense to smuggle the ball to safety. Lucky Mkosana went close with six minutes to go, flashing a near-post cross by Dayonn Harris just over the crossbar, but by the end the reigning Eastern Conference title holders ran out of steam, one final blocked shot by Harris in the 116th minute their last effort before LouCity celebrated surrounded by a joyous home crowd.
The hosts had got out to the more positive start to open the contest with Enoch Mushagalusa pulling one shot wide of the right post before testing Rowdies goalkeeper Phil Breno with a low effort from a similar area in the left side of the penalty area. Tampa Bay’s first real chance, meanwhile, didn’t come until the 31st minute when Jake Areman picked out Lewis Hilton with a precise cross from the left, allowing the midfielder to volley an effort on target from 25 yards that LouCity goalkeeper Danny Faundez got down to save.
Mushagalusa continued to be lively as the first half progressed, though, and curled a shot that narrowly missed picking out the top-right corner three minutes later. As the second half arrived, however, the game tightened as both sides brought on substitutes and shifted systems hoping to open up the game.
One of those substitutes played a role as LouCity almost broke the deadlock in the 75th minute minutes to go. Brought on 10 minutes earlier, Brian Ownby brought down a long ball into the right side of the penalty area and cut back a pass for Wilson Harris, who turned to created space and shot low toward the left corner only to be denied by a sharp save from Breno.
With eight minutes remaining, however, the hosts were reduced to 10 men as Bone was sent off after a dead-ball altercation with Lewis Hilton near the halfway line. The Rowdies almost took advantage with two minutes to go as Dos Santos headed a corner kick by Nicky Law from the right back across goal where Sebastian Dalgaard was unable to provide a finishing touch at close range. Dayonn Harris then had a chance in stoppage time that was saved by Faundez, who reacted quickly to block away a rebound chance for Dos Santos.
After the game went to extra time scoreless, however, Wynder delivered the biggest goal of his young career, and earned LouCity a chance at its third star.
USLChampionship.com Player of the Match
Elijah Wynder, Louisville City FC – The 19-year-old delivered the goal to send his side back to the Championship Final for the first time since 2019 after providing a spark coming on as a second-half substitute.
LOU – Elijah Wynder 108’