Brian Ownby opens the scoring for Louisville in the 34th minute of the side's 2-0 victory over Bethlehem Steel FC. | Photo courtesy EM Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky – No. 2-seed Louisville City FC took the field for its Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup against Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday night knowing that a victory would give the side the opportunity to host the Eastern Conference Final at Slugger Field for the second straight season.
There was a nervous excitement in the Louisville locker room following the elimination of the East’s top seed FC Cincinnati earlier in the afternoon, but Head Coach John Hackworth said the New York Red Bulls II’s 1-0 upset victory at Nippert Stadium – which ended FCC’s historic 24-game unbeaten run – also served as a wakeup call to his players.
“Maybe we should make sure that that doesn’t happen to us, that’s the way I took it,” said Hackworth. “That’s the message I tried to get to our guys and I think they took it in the right way and just focused on taking care of business here.”
Louisville’s defense limited Bethlehem to just two shots on goal over the 90 minutes and midfielder Brian Ownby scored his first two goals of the season on either side of halftime as the hosts cruised to a 2-0 victory in front of 6,881 fans at Slugger Field.
After scoring seven times during Louisville’s 2017 USL Cup-winning campaign, the 28-year-old had failed to find the back of the net with any of his 27 shots during an injury-riddled season that limited him to just 13 starts and 23 appearances prior to Saturday’s match. Ownby finally broke his duck at the opportune time for Louisville, slotting a left-footed shot past Steel FC goalkeeper Jake McGuire to open the scoring in the 34th minute before doubling his tally with a right-footed finish just before the hour-mark.
“It’s about time,” Hackworth joked after the match. “[I’m] teasing him because he’s done such a good job recently and he just hasn’t found the back of the net. He just hasn’t found that assist. All the time I say, ‘Look, it’s coming. It’s going to come and when it does, no better time than to do it in a playoff game like this’.”
Ownby has had a knack for scoring in the postseason with Louisville, netting the side’s only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Rochester Rhinos at this stage last year and repeating the feat the following weekend in LouCity’s 1-1 (4-3) penalty shootout win over the Red Bulls II in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.
“It’s great for us, but it’s no surprise,” said Louisville captain Paolo DelPiccolo. “I can’t believe it took this long because you can see what a weapon he is. Not just with his pace, which is obviously so quick, but his skills are incredible. For him to get two goals, it’s awesome but also expected, almost.”
With a third consecutive conference final matchup against the Red Bulls II set for Friday night, Hackworth is happy to see his side find some balance in attack after relying on USL Golden Boot-winner Cameron Lancaster for much of the regular season. Lancaster scored a league-best 25 goals this campaign but has found the back of the net just once so far this postseason while seeing his conversion rate drop by over ten percent from the regular season.
“I’ve said it in another context about Cam [Lancaster] being the guy that always scores, but we have guys that’ll step up in those moments and I think tonight was a night where Brian [Ownby] steps up,” said Hackworth. “Last week was Niall [McCabe]. We can hurt you in a variety of ways.”