Louisville City FC midfielder Oscar Jimenez delivers a cross in a match at Slugger Field. | Photo courtesy EM Dash Photography
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In the 29th minute of Louisville City FC’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal victory over Indy Eleven, midfielder Oscar Jimenez stood over a corner kick with a distinct plan in mind.
The goal was to roll a cut-back pass to Niall McCabe near the top of the penalty area for a first-time shot, a concept developed on the training ground by Louisville Assistant Coach Danny Cruz to exploit an open area in Indy’s defense that he spotted on film.
While the opportunity was there for the taking, the set play’s success still required Jimenez to produce a pass with the perfect precision and weight to evade any nearby Eleven defenders and still give McCabe a reasonable chance of hitting the target. As he has done numerous times over the past two seasons, the 28-year-old delivered an inch-perfect ball and McCabe found the bottom-left corner with a first-time strike to give Louisville the lead.
The pair executed a similar play from a free kick in the second half, which yielded the same result as Jimenez again rolled a pass into the path of McCabe to fire into the back of the net.
“The original plan was to try the first one and see how it went and it went pretty good, so we said let’s see if it’s there again,” McCabe said after the match. “It’s something we work on, not just physically but tactically we work very hard. So, it’s nice to see when it comes off and it gives everyone an insight on how hard we work.”
Louisville’s success from set pieces over the past two seasons has mirrored the club’s overall achievements, as the side ranks in the top five in chances created from set plays (127) and goals from set plays (22). Jimenez has played a major role in that efficiency as he leads the USL with 94 chances created from set plays since the start of the 2017 season, recording 20 more than his nearest competitor in the category.
“It’s just an execution on service, which is a little bit of a lost art,” Louisville Head Coach John Hackworth said of Jimenez’s ability from dead-ball situations. “It’s a pass, but you have to be precise with it and he’s obviously proven that he’s the best guy on our team, and again, probably one of the best guys in this league, for sure.”
Jimenez ranks third in the league this season in chances created from set plays (47) but has a league-leading nine assists from those opportunities if you factor in the two from this past weekend, accounting for 75 percent of Louisville’s 12 total assists from set-piece situations this year.
While the side has been remarkably efficient from set plays during the last two regular seasons, Louisville continues to save its best work for the USL Cup Playoffs. Louisville scored three of its four goals on set pieces in last weekend’s win over Indy – Cameron Lancaster added the team’s fourth from a direct free kick – and the side tallied three of its seven goals last postseason from similar situations.
Hackworth is hoping that Jimenez can continue to consistently produce quality deliveries when No. 2-seed Louisville City FC hosts No. 6-seed Bethlehem Steel FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) at Slugger Field as the side looks to reach the Eastern Conference Final for a fourth successive postseason.
“It just gives you confidence when you get those moments,” said Hackworth. “You feel like you can get through difficult times. But, when you get a chance on a set-piece, you have that much more confidence and that’s a big part of executing on set-pieces. If a runner knows the service is going to be here, all he has to do is beat his defender to the spot and that’s a nice feeling.”