Jamaican international Speedy Williams celebrates with the USL Eastern Conference Championship trophy after scoring twice in the club's 5-1 win against the New York Red Bulls II. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In each of the club’s past two runs in the USL Cup Playoffs, there have been likely and unlikely heroes come to the fore for Louisville City FC.
There have been players like Cameron Lancaster in last year’s USL Cup against the Swope Park Rangers and Brian Ownby, who has six goals in the past two postseasons. Then, there have been others like Tarek Morad and Niall McCabe that have come through with clutch goals for the side during its postseason success.
On Friday night, it was Speedy Williams’ turn.
After scoring only once in the 2018 regular season, the Jamaican international’s two goals in three minutes emphatically closed the door on the New York Red Bulls II’s hopes of a comeback as LouCity claimed its second consecutive Eastern Conference Championship with a 5-1 win before a crowd of 10,059 fans at Slugger Field and booked a place in the 2018 USL Cup.
“Everybody was so happy for him. We watch it all the time in training and recently he hasn’t done that, but tonight was fantastic,” said Louisville Head Coach John Hackworth. “I think I was here last weekend and I said, ‘I think somebody will do it this weekend.’ It was Niall [McCabe] two weeks ago, Brian [Ownby] last week and Speedy this week. Again, we have guys that’ll – and the way we play it’s collective. Everybody believes it, and somebody’s got to step up and be responsible and certainly Speedy was that guy tonight.”
Louisville City FC's Speedy Williams leads the celebration after scoring against the New York Red Bulls II in the Eastern Conference Final of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Williams had been introduced moments after New York had grabbed a lifeline on the hour-mark to halve Louisville’s two-goal halftime lead, a fine header by Tom Barlow off a cross by Ethan Kutler capping a good spell of pressure by the visitors that had seen the Red Bulls II record five shots in the opening 15 minutes after the break.
The Jamaican’s introduction in place of George Davis IV was likely intended to help break up the passing patterns New York was beginning to weave in the center of midfield, and it had a positive effect as the Red Bulls II were held without a shot over the following 15 minutes.
The additional effect it had, though, saw Louisville put the game to bed.
Williams first rifled home a finish from the right side of the penalty area in the 73rd minute as he peeled wide and was found by a perfectly-weighted through-ball by McCabe to restore Louisville’s two-goal lead. Two minutes later came an even better strike as Williams received possession from Ownby just outside the penalty area and powered home a finish into the left corner that left New York goalkeeper Evan Louro grasping as it flew past him.
The celebration led by Williams on the field was matched by that in the stands as LouCity’s perfect home postseason record was emphatically extended.
“Fantastic for Speedy to come on,” said Hackworth. “He comes on in a defensive role but we always talk about it – every guy on our team has to be an attacking player.”
A final tally by Ownby wrapped up a final score that was likely harsh on the Red Bulls II, who had missed a penalty kick when given the chance to take the lead in the 16th minute when Chris Lema lost his footing as he planted to take the shot, but Louisville’s resilience after it had lost Lancaster to a leg injury early in the first half in taking a two-goal lead through finishes from Ilija Ilic and Luke Spencer – Lancaster’s replacement in the 13th minute – showed just why it had given itself the chance to become the first back-to-back USL Cup winners in the league’s history.
“Credit to New York Red Bulls,” said Davis. “They're very good team, a lot of good young players and they gave us some trouble. I think the ultimate X-factor was how we took opportunities and transition. I thought Brian, the way Speedy came on, the way Luke came on for Cam when he went down injured. It was like we didn't miss a beat and that's what this group's about.”
“This is one of the most special group of men I’ve ever been around. It is a team like no other,” added Hackworth. “They’ll battle, they’ll work for each other, they’ll make mistakes but then they come back with a resilience. To lose Cam was huge, but we always believe that the guy who needs to come in and get that opportunity is ready for it. And Luke was that guy. Speedy was that guy.
“It really changes how you tactically can play when your leading goal scorer and leading goal scorer in the league goes down so early. But, all said and done, at the end of the day, the guys come on and lift up Cam and the rest of us. I can’t say enough about their character because it is literally the best team, personality, character, culture that I’ve ever been around.”
Louisville City FC captain Paolo DelPiccolo raises the USL Eastern Conference Championship trophy surrounded by his teammates. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Louisville will now await the winner of Saturday night’s Western Conference Final between No. 1-seed Orange County SC and No. 3-seed Phoenix Rising FC for a showdown at Lynn Stadium on the campus of the University of Louisville on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET | ESPN2) for the chance at making a major piece of USL history.
Having rolled to nine consecutive victories since the middle of September, the defending champions are in no mood to let their crown be taken away.
“It’s buzzing,” said Davis of the postgame atmosphere in the locker room. “It’s hard to explain, hard to put into words. This team puts in so much work. It’s been a long season for us and we just want to win. We want to be successful and that’s the mentality of the entire group. It’s great to get a result like we had and back to the USL Championship. That's the goal that we set at the beginning of the year. It's very difficult to go back to back and now we have the opportunity to do it.”