Indy Eleven forward Jack McInerney scored twice in the club's last visit to face Louisville City FC at Slugger Field, a 2-2 draw on August 5. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Going into the final game of the regular season locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, on the face of it there isn’t that much for Louisville City FC to play for when it hosts fellow USL Cup Playoffs qualifier Indy Eleven at Slugger Field on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+), but as the playoffs approach LouCity Head Coach John Hackworth doesn’t want to see the side’s level drop after five consecutive wins.
“We want to improve,” said Hackworth, who saw his side take a 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC on Tuesday night. “We have some momentum and we want to carry that forward and get better. Especially in watching some areas against North Carolina, we have to get better. The message and emphasis have been to focus on us, improve where we have to, and finish the regular season strong. We want to respect what we’ve been doing, and we have a high standard that we understand. We’re striving for excellence and have some unfinished business in that regard.”
The subtext to the contest, however, is that depending on how Saturday’s game plays out and results elsewhere, the two sides could very quickly find themselves matched up again to open the postseason. Indy could finish anywhere from its current fifth place – which it would clinch with a victory – to eighth place – which it could sink to with a loss – in the final standings.
But an immediate rematch might not be the worst thing for the Eleven, who have taken a win and a draw from two prior meetings with Louisville this year. Indy twice took the lead through Jack McInerny in a 2-2 draw when it visited Slugger Field on August 5 in the more recent of those two meetings as the rivalry between the two clubs separated by just under a two-hour drive has continued to build.
“I think for us it’s a game against a local rival,” said Indy Head Coach Martin Rennie. “This will be the third time this season we’ve played them and the first two games have been good games, close games. We want a good performance and we’ll do everything we can to get a win in the last regular season match, so we can go out into the playoffs on a high [note].”
While it has found success against Louisville, Indy hasn’t been in the best form as it has wound its way toward the postseason. The Eleven played to a 1-1 draw with Bethlehem Steel FC in their most recent outing, which left the side with only one win in its last five games as it heads to Louisville. That has placed the side in a cluster of six teams separated by five points whose final position will be determined over the final two days of the regular season.
Even though the Eleven aren’t in their best form of the season, however, Hackworth is highly respectful of the job Rennie has accomplished to set his side up to achieve immediate success in the league this season. Indy is currently the lone newcomer to the league this season to have clinched a place in the postseason with Nashville SC having a good chance to join them and North Carolina FC a slimmer path to the playoffs.
“What they’ve done well is that they make it hard for the opponent to break them down,” said Hackworth. “Specifically, their style and the way they have defended against Louisville in the previous meetings is a good tactic and it has negated some of the strengths of this team. It’s an interesting problem to solve for Saturday. These are two teams with rosters that have a lot of quality on them. There are good players on both teams and positionally, across the board, it can look pretty even in quality. Then it’s about which team, collectively, executes better in the moments that they have.”