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Local Boy Ballard Brings Boost for Louisville

By CHRIS HOCKMAN -, 11/11/17, 9:02AM EST


Rookie of the Year candidate is aiming to cap great season with a championship

Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Ahead of the 2017 USL season, Louisville City FC made its first ever hometown signing, Richard Ballard.

Eight months later, after Ballard was named a finalist for the USL Rookie of the Year award on Thursday to cap his impressive first professional season, the decision appears to have paid of handsomely for both club and player.

“It’s everything,” Ballard said on Saturday night after his penalty kick had sealed Louisville's place in its first USL Cup. “It’s something you dream about doing.”

Playing for his hometown club has been a dream come true for the young midfielder as he starts his life as a professional soccer player in comfortable surroundings. A big part of that has been his family support, with his parents attending every single match, even coming down on the pitch following the side's penalty shootout victory against the New York Red Bulls II this past Saturday night in the Eastern Conference Final to celebrate with their son, moments after he'd put away the game-winning goal from the spot.

“It’s just amazing to be able to play and have my parents be able to come to every single game and to see how much soccer has grown in Louisville,” said Ballard. “To watch Louisville get a professional team and be the first local player on it, to know how much it’s going to grow, it’s really special, and I’m very excited to continue it.”

That support doesn’t come from just his family and parents but from City fans as a whole, who have given their local hero robust support when he comes off the bench.

“I think the fans are extremely supportive, and the energy behind their team is great, and I definitely get a big energy boost with the fans cheering me on coming off the bench. I’m fired up and ready to go,” said the midfielder.

Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Ballard's experience with Louisville's soccer community doesn't only extend back to his high school and club soccer days. While he went away to top NCAA Men's Soccer program Indiana University for college, Ballard returned home each summer to play in the Premier Development League with the Derby City Rovers in both 2013 and 2014. Getting that competition and being able to work on his game with the Rovers is something he credits to boosting his ability to start off strongly in his professional career.

“PDL was helpful,” said Ballard. I think it’s good experience for young players to keep them playing through the summer," said Ballard. “I think it was helpful for the time, and towards the later years, I was taking summer school and training on campus. PDL was helpful with a professional lifestyle. I’m definitely a stronger professional. I’m always progressing as a player, and as a person, and I think I’ve progressed quite a bit.”

But despite an impressive rookie season that saw him record three goals and five assists in just over 1,000 minutes of action, Ballard knows that this is just a start to his career. While the nomination for Rookie of the Year is certainly a feather in his cap, he will not rest on his laurels even if it includes a USL Cup victory on Monday.

“I’ve been trying to make the most of the time that I’ve been given, and I think it was a developmental year, but I did the best that I could for the situation that I was put in. I’m pretty proud of how I’ve grown throughout the year and what we’ve accomplished as a team,” said Ballard.

Having come off the bench so much this year, Ballard could be vital in the USL Cup on Monday should Louisville need a boost against a strong Swope Park Rangers side that is making its second consecutive USL Cup appearance. The impact Ballard brings he credits to a tactical awareness that he can’t get from on the pitch.

“I think, as a sub, you should always being paying attention to the game, paying attention to the other team and how we’re playing, the momentum and how the other team plays, their formation, so that by the time you enter the game you have a different view of the game than those who were on the field, and you can be as prepared as possible when it’s your time to go,” said Ballard. “Then you’re as prepared as possible.”

Ballard could have a big impact in the match, and he will certainly get a strong ovation from the crowd if, and when, he makes his mark at Slugger Field on Monday night.

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