Second-year Head Coach Danny Cruz has led Louisville City FC to a 42-14-14 record across the regular season and playoffs in his two-year tenure at the club. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Louisville City FC Head Coach Danny Cruz praised the club’s collective culture on Monday as the Eastern Conference title winners began their preparations for the 2022 USL Championship Final against San Antonio FC on Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET | ESPN2 | ESPN Deportes | SiriusXM FC), with the visitors at Toyota Field set for their league-high fourth appearance with a title on the line.
“There's been success here year after year,” said Cruz. “And when you look at the players that come here, [it’s] the understanding of it’s no longer about them as individuals, it’s about representing the club, it’s about representing the locker room, and it’s about doing everything that you can every single day to be at your best, and when times are tough, getting through it together. When you’re playing well, staying humble.
“You know, it may look like it’s easy to win an Eastern Conference championship or get to an Eastern Conference Final. Let me tell you, it’s not, and [it’s due to] the work that everybody puts in at this club – and I don’t just mean my staff, and my players but everybody upstairs as well. If there’s a constant theme in the work ethic that you have, and you asked me, you know what, what do I attribute to that? And it's the culture. It’s the willingness to want to be the best every day and to do everything that you can to make sure you're doing that.”
Louisville City FC Head Coach Danny Cruz celebrates the club's fourth Eastern Conference title with Goalkeepers Coach Scott Budnick (left) and assistant coach Simon Bird (right) on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LouCity’s path toward its chance to become the first club in league history to win a third Championship title has by no means been easy this postseason. In both contests, the side has gone beyond 90 minutes before advancing, winning a penalty shootout against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before Elijah Wynder’s winner in the second period of extra time lifted the side past the Tampa Bay Rowdies last Saturday night in the Eastern Conference Final.
That the 19-year-old midfielder was on the field was in part due to the injuries that LouCity has sustained to senior members of its squad this season. All-time appearances leader Niall McCabe saw his season come to an end in September due to a broken foot, while others like all-time leading goalscorer Cameron Lancaster and 2022 Championship Golden Glove winner Kyle Morton were both unavailable this past weekend against the Rowdies, with Cruz saying Morton will be out on Sunday and Lancaster is questionable ahead of evaluation this week.
Cruz believes the way Wynder, younger brother Joshua – who this year has captained the U.S. U-19 Men’s National Team and is a finalist for the Championship’s Young Player of the Year award – and Carlos Moguel Jr. have stepped into the breach this postseason has been an indicator of how the club’s culture has permeated through LouCity’s system, with its Academy products having proven ready to deliver when called on.
“[Elijah’s] grown up in front of us, and that goes for all of them,” said Cruz. “And I think we talk about moments a lot, talk about growth, when you look at the leadership of the veteran players in the locker room, I think all of those young guys will tell you without them and how they’ve handled them, they’re not where they are right now.”
Louisville City FC has called on new faces including Academy graduates Elijah and Joshua Wynder and Carlos Moguel Jr., as well as goalkeeper Danny Faundez, in its run to a fourth USL Championship Final appearance. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Lo
Facing a San Antonio FC side that has developed its own identity throughout the past three seasons under Head Coach Alen Marcina, Cruz’s squad will likely get its biggest test of the season on Sunday night.
After all it’s done to reach this moment, however, Cruz believes his side will be ready for the challenge.
“[They’re] a very strong team physically,” he said. “A well-organized team. A team that is difficult to break down, a lot of quality higher up the field. A lot of strength higher up the field, a lot of speed higher up the field. So, I think those are traits that have gotten them to where they are for sure. But I’m certainly confident in my group.”