Louisville City FC players celebrate winning the USL Cup. (Photo courtesy of the USL)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Luke Spencer’s second-half strike helped Louisville City FC become the first club to claim back-to-back USL Cups as the home side earned a 1-0 victory over Phoenix Rising FC before a sellout crowd of 7,025 at Lynn Stadium Thursday night.
Spencer’s 62nd-minute volley from close range was enough to split the two sides in a tightly contested final, which saw Louisville successfully defend its crown by the same scoreline and continue the host team’s perfect record in USL Cup history.
Spencer was named the cup MVP.
Didier Drogba, the Ivory Coast legend who played in his final career match, recorded the first shot on target in the fifth minut. He stepped over a free kick from just outside of the center circle and unleashed a dipping effort from 45 yards that was parried to safety by goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh.
The hosts conjured up their first chance on the other end four minutes later as captain Paolo DelPiccolo got on the end of a well-worked free kick routine but couldn’t get enough power behind his left-footed strike to trouble Carl Woszczynski in the Phoenix goal. Louisville came close on another set piece opportunity in the 15th minute, as dead-ball specialist Oscar Jimenez curled a right-footed effort from 20 yards around the Phoenix wall but could only find the side netting.
Rising FC produced the best chance of the opening half in the 24th minute through winger Jason Johnson. The Jamaican carried the ball down the left side and fired a shot from 25 yards that took a deflection off Louisville defender Paco Craig on its way towards goal, but Ranjitsingh reacted quickly to get down to his right and palm the ball behind as the two sides played out the fifth scoreless first half in USL Cup history.
Brian Ownby had a great opportunity to open the scoring five minutes after the break as Louisville’s No. 10 found himself in space at the back post after Rising FC right back Saad Abdul-Salaam misjudged a right-wing cross from his opposite number Kyle Smith. Ownby, who entered the game with three goals this postseason, chested down the cross but fired his left-footed volley high and wide of the left post with the goal at his mercy.
The home side finally made its quality at set pieces count two minutes after the hour-mark as Spencer, who started in place of injured leading scorer Cameron Lancaster, popped up to volley home from close range after a goalmouth scramble to send the home crowd into a frenzy. Jimenez’s inswinging corner kick was headed across the face of goal by Craig to Ilija Ilic, who saw his acrobatic overhead kick headed off the line by Tristan Blackmon, only for Spencer to find the loose ball and fire it past Woszczynski for his second goal of the playoffs.
After conceding the lead, the visitors began pressing for an equalizer and created two quality chances in an attempt to level the scoring. Solomon Asante’s cross from the right wing found Johnson near the penalty spot in the 75th minute, but the winger directed his header just wide of Ranjitsingh’s left-hand post. Two minutes later, Phoenix found more space down the right and Abdul-Salaam’s low cross from the wing found Billy Forbes in the center of the box, but the second-half substitute sliced his effort over the frame of the goal.
Phoenix had a penalty shout in the first minute of second-half stoppage time as Alexis Souahy bundled into Joe Farrell, but referee Joseph Dickerson wasn’t moved and blew the final whistle moments after Drogba headed one last attempt wide from Asante’s 92nd-minute corner kick as Louisville City FC held on.