LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Niall McCabe scored a pair of goals as No. 2-seed Louisville City FC powered to a 4-1 victory against No. 7-seed Indy Eleven in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs to open its defense of last season’s USL Cup at Slugger Field on Saturday night.
Ilija Ilic and Cameron Lancaster also scored in either half for the hosts, who maintained their perfect record on home turf in the USL Cup Playoffs. Louisville will host No. 6-seed Bethlehem Steel FC next Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after Steel FC's penalty shootout victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
The Eleven almost got out to a flying start as a defensive miscue by Louisville gave Jack McInerney a chance he almost seized on after just 18 seconds, his shot from 18 yards that LouCity goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh had to turn wide of the right post. Nico Matern also threatened early for Indy with a driving run from midfield being capped by a shot that almost found the top-left corner in the fourth minute.
After the early flurry from the visitors, though, Louisville got onto the front foot. USL Golden Boot-winner Lancaster produced a low shot after a clever dummy by Ilic allowed the ball to run through to the top of the penalty area that Indy goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams got down to save, and Lancaster put a glancing header on frame that Fon Williams also kept out.
The pressure continued for the hosts and Ilic had a golden opportunity to volley home Oscar Jimenez’s cross from the left from eight yards, only to send his finish wide of the left post, while George Davis IV had a first-time shot off a cross by Brian Ownby from the left side of the penalty area that drifted past the defense that Fon Williams got across well to save.
But the breakthrough arrived from the ensuing corner kick as a low ball to an open spot 12 yards from goal found McCabe arriving late to strike a first-time shot that found its way through a cluster of bodies in front of goal and into the back of the net.
Lancaster almost took advantage of a moment of indecision from Indy’s defense eight minutes before halftime as a long ball over the top found the English forward running on, but his header didn’t have enough power to elude Fon Williams as he clawed it away. Five minutes later, though, Indy’s defense was unable to properly clear a cross from the right by Davis and Ilic was the man on the spot to tuck home a finish to the left corner to double Louisville’s lead.
After producing one goal from a designed set play in the first half, Jimenez and McCabe did so again three minutes into the second half as the Irish midfielder was left alone near the top of the penalty area as Jimenez slid a free kick from the right toward him for a curling finish that found the left corner of the net and a three-goal lead.
Louisville looked for more, and Davis was denied in the 51st minute by Fon Williams on a powerful first-time shot from the right after Lancaster had held up play well inside the penalty area. Davis also fired over in the 58th minute from the top-right of the penalty area.
Indy pulled a goal back in the 67th minute when Dylan Mares slid a pass into Soony Saad just inside the Louisville penalty area, and the Lebanese international turned well to make space for a low shot inside the left post as the visitors tried to make a comeback. Those thoughts were short-lived, however, as six minutes later Lancaster got in on the act for the hosts with a sumptuous free kick from the left side that picked out the top-left corner of the net to restore Louisville’s three-goal lead and send the hosts on comfortably.
29’ – LOU – Niall McCabe (Oscar Jimenez)
42’ – LOU – Ilija Ilic
48’ – LOU – Niall McCabe (Oscar Jimenez)
67’ – IND – Soony Saad (Dylan Mares)
73’ – LOU – Cameron Lancaster
#LOUvIND: Highlights and Opta Box Score
Three Things That Matter:
1. Louisville City FC began its quest to become the first side to win back-to-back USL Cups in about as comprehensive fashion as it did a season ago in a victory that saw the side produce enough chances to win by a wider margin as it maintained its perfect playoff record at Slugger Field over the past four seasons. From the moment the hosts got their first look at goal in the fifth minute after a bright start by Indy there was only one team that looked likely to find victory as Niall McCabe struck twice and Ilija Ilic continued his standout season before Cameron Lancaster’s outstanding free kick capped off the performance after Indy pulled back a second-half goal.
2. Set pieces can make a major difference in the postseason, and Louisville had clearly been hard at work on the training field this week on moves that set up a pair of goals that saw Oscar Jimenez and Niall McCabe outfox their opponents as Indy’s defense was twice caught unawares. That McCabe was able to find space without a marker in the right side of the penalty area for a first-half goal that opened the scoring for the hosts should have served as a warning, but McCabe was once again left all alone at the top of the penalty area three minutes of the second half for another first-time strike that effectively put a seal on advancement for the hosts.
3. Indy’s first season in the USL came to an end with the team in poor form to close the regular season, and while it opened the contest brightly there just didn’t seem to be enough from the visitors to carry past a side that entered with a six-game winning streak and the confidence that comes from it. The Eleven should look back on a season that saw a group that came together later in preseason than most as a building block to a bright future for the club, however, with a core of players that should enter 2019 as a serious contender.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Niall McCabe, Louisville City FC – McCabe scored a pair of cleverly-worked set-piece goals and was efficient in midfield throughout the contest to lead Louisville to a convincing home victory.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Louisville City FC vs. Bethlehem Steel FC, Saturday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. ET, Slugger Field
Indy Eleven – End of Season