Louisville City FC is going back to the USL Championship Final after its 1-0 victory after extra time against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night before 11,563 fans at Lynn Family Stadium.
Here are three things we took away from the contest, which earned LouCity its fourth Eastern Conference title its eight-season history.
1. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: You could hardly have blamed Louisville City FC Head Coach Danny Cruz for going with what was almost his most experienced available lineup to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night. In what set up – and proved to be – a hard-fought and at times chippy battle, that experience saw Joshua Wynder relegated to the substitutes bench alongside brother Elijah and last week’s penalty shootout hero Carlos Moguel Jr.
And yet, when the moment came for a hero to make himself known, there was LouCity Academy product Elijah Wynder in the right place at the right time to score the only goal. Elijah’s second goal of the season – now matching brother Joshua – continued his dream postseason that might have seemed out of reach while on loan at FC Tucson earlier this year. The 19-year-old – who watched LouCity win its first two Championship Finals from the stands – could now have a chance to live out his dream of helping the side add a third star to its crest next weekend.
2. STRENGTH ON STRENGTH: Louisville City FC entered Saturday night having scored the most goals from set pieces in the league this season. The Tampa Bay Rowdies had conceded the fewest goals from set pieces. But when push came to shove, LouCity found a way through for its 12th goal from a corner kick and 29th overall from dead ball situations to deliver a fourth Eastern Conference title.
After Corben Bone’s justified red card late in the second half for LouCity – a bone-headed move, as it was referred to by play-by-play announcer Mike Watts and others on social media – a set piece was likely to be LouCity’s best chance. Oscar Jimenez’s delivery caused confusion, and when the Rowdies couldn’t find a clearance, the hosts pounced and then held on for victory.
3. ROWDIES RUN OUT OF STEAM: Just as it seemed a week ago, the Tampa Bay Rowdies had a poor first half that saw them only record one shot on target, and rarely threaten the LouCity penalty area. Changes that included the substitution of 2022 Young Player of the Year finalist Jake LaCava at halftime and 2022 Most Valuable Player candidate Leo Fernandes after 63 minutes tried to spark something, but it never quite felt as though the urgency was present enough for the visitors.
Given the chance to grab the game with a player advantage for 38-or-so minutes after Bone’s red card, the Rowdies’ ramped up possession but still didn’t seem to threaten quite enough. After a late miracle against Memphis 901 FC last week, the two-time Eastern Conference title winner’s reign came to an end in disappointing fashion.