February 10th, 2015

Louisville City FC: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Have Hope For Pro Sports in Kentucky

(Photo Credit: Tim Elliott/WLKY @WLKYTim )

LouCityFCLogoAdmittedly, my knowledge of the inner workings of soccer is very lax.  I am aware that as with the sports that I love on a deep emotional level, you pay people to come put the ball in a certain place more times than the other team.  But there is much more to it than that I’m sure, as there is much more to every sport than that and I have learned that I must assimilate this soccer information into the fibers of my being in support of professional sports in the state of Kentucky.

I am aware that there are people who read this site who may not be from the Bluegrass State (home to things other than basketball such as the Nappy Roots and George Clooney) but this is a little centric to home.  People have been clamoring for professional basketball in this state for as long as I can remember and it hasn’t even been enough that John Calipari has managed to field more professional basketball players in one year than some schools do in 100.  As it sits currently there is no pro basketball team here and the likelihood of that happening any time soon is very small at best considering the money it takes to move a team and the fact that the NBA has been very reluctant to allow any team movement in the past several years.  The people of this great state have been forced to adopt a variety of teams like the Reds, Bengals, Colts, and Titans depending on what part of the state you are in or if you’re like myself you have went straight out of left field with the Celtics and the Saints.  But if Human Giant taught me anything it is that you can never love your adopted kid the way you love your real kid and as Kentucky citizens we have bourbon, horses, and goddamn it we want pro sports.

This is where Louisville City FC comes in.  Any and all parts of this paragraph could drift from absolute truth to my own misguided beliefs at any point.  It is my understanding that the Orlando USL (essentially minor league) team got upgraded to the MLS (actually major league) and they still owned the right to their charter in the USL.  They decided to make a team in Louisville to take the place of Orlando’s USL spot and the Orlando team sold their spot to an investor group in Louisville based on the outpouring of support from soccer fans in the city.  The Louisville team is a feeder team for Orlando but it is a mutually beneficial arrangement as Orlando will send down new draft picks and lesser players (in terms of MLS players, so probably pretty damn good players for USL play) to Louisville to cut their teeth.  For those who follow basketball exclusively, it is like an NBA rookie being loaned down to the D-League but there would actually be fans there watching them play.

This is a great opportunity for the city to get a taste of professional sports and a great barometer that potential purchasers of professional sports teams can use to determine how viable a pro team would be in the state.  Luckily for the team they are able to host their games at the Louisville Slugger Stadium which is going through some changes in order to also host the soccer team along with their regularly scheduled baseball programming.

I was recently able to get some questions answered by Coach James O’Conner about the forthcoming season and his impression of Kentucky considering he is not a native to KFC Headquarters.

With the announcement that the team will be playing in the Eastern Conference of the USL, how do you think your roster currently stacks up with the other teams in the conference?

Coach O’Connor: “We are excited by the prospect of competing in the Eastern Conference and we feel that we have a great set of players who will be competitive in our inaugural season.”

With the recent signing of players with MLS experience such as Connor Shanosky and Matthew Fondy, how do you see them contributing and do you expect them to be leaders of the team?

Coach O’Connor:  “Yes we do, we are really pleased to have signed such good players and we see them playing a very pivotal role in our first season.  We have a number of players who we feel will make a big contribution this year.”

You were born in Ireland and played much of your professional career in England.  Now you find yourself coaching in Louisville, Kentucky.  What were your thoughts and knowledge base about the state of Kentucky before you came here?

Coach O’Connor:  I will be honest I did not know a lot about it. When we came up we were really impressed with how friendly the people were and how passionate they were about their sports. We are really pleased to be here and can’t wait to get started.”

In doing research for the article there was a theme that kept reappearing and that was the fact that the soccer fans in Louisville were one of the driving forces that led to the team coming here.  Soccer is notorious for its fans who are fervent supporters of their teams.  This fandom is finally starting to leak over into the United States, particularly after the good showing of the US Men’s National Team at the World Cup last year but it is not quite to the point you could call it out of hand as it is in some places.  When you think of soccer fans you think about people painted up in their country’s colors or beautiful men and women at the World Cup, maybe you think of soccer hooligans raising hell and rioting or maybe you think about a referee stabbing and killing a player and then getting decapitated by the crowd and his head put on a spike like he was on the walls of the Red Keep.  Regardless of which of those images come to mind, it is without a doubt that the Louisville soccer support group known as the Louisville Coopers played a large role in bringing Louisville City FC to the Derby City.

There aren’t a lot of sports teams who have such organized fan bases that they would have officers and a website but if you haven’t taken away anything else from this article I would hope that you realized that soccer isn’t like every other sport.  I was able to communicate with a couple of the members of the Louisville Coopers who refused to take off their Guy Fawkes masks and affectionately referred to me as “outsider.”

As far as soccer fans go, you could say that I am one of the uninitiated but from the outside looking in it seems as though soccer has some of the most devout fans.  How do you feel that your group contributed to bringing the team to Louisville?

Augustus Waiters (Secretary):  “This is not me tooting our own horn here, but had the Coopers not existed starting in 2013, there would be no Louisville City FC. The Orlando City ownership group was looking at a lot of places to put their franchise. We got lucky that a personal friend and business partner of the OC ownership, Wayne Estopinal, lived in this city and wanted to make it work. But make no mistake, had we not pushed getting the people behind bringing the soccer team to this city, it would not have happened.”

How do you feel the response has been in the city and state regarding excitement for the opening season for the team?

Taylor Sorrels (Member At Large):  “City: very supportive. State: nonexistent. Oh, we’re not talking government? College basketball and football pretty much owns around here. We’ve got progress to make to become a larger part of our community’s general sports consciousness.”

Do you think the team will be able to thrive in Louisville?

Augustus Waiters:  “I make no bones about how difficult it will be to make this team stick in college football/basketball country. That said, I am a firm believer that this team will be a success, especially once the basketball season is over. I think once people get out to Slugger and see the atmosphere that we create, they’ll be just as hooked as I was the first time I went to a soccer game.”

Soccer has not always been the most popular sport here in the states but has become more in vogue lately, partially in response to the national team’s success.  How do you feel the recent performance of the USMNT has helped soccer fandom in the United States?

Augustus Waiters:  “It’s raised the profile a lot. Ten years ago, you ask people who the goalkeepers for the US in the most recent World Cup, you’d luck out if you heard Brianna Scurry (For the record: Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, and Tony Meola, and I’m ashamed that I had to look up Meola to confirm that he was there). Now Tim Howard is a household name. You were lucky if people knew who Landon Donovan was, now you can walk into just about any bar in America and find someone who will have a serious debate with you on whether or not he should have gone to Brazil. Soccer is reaching that point where it’s not mainstream enough, but it’s not niche either, and the men’s and women’s national teams are the biggest reason for that. Combine that with NBC Sports EXCELLENT coverage of the EPL, and I don’t see anything but upside for soccer in America.”

In America are we supposed to extinguish the word soccer from regular use and move to futball now or is the rest of the world just going to have to get over the fact that we have another sport with that name that essentially doesn’t use the feet at all?

Taylor Sorrels:  “No, soccer’s fine.”

Soccer fans are world renowned both positively and negatively from riots in Europe to decapitating a referee after he stabs a player to death.  How rabid do you think the fan base is going to be in Louisville, short of committing murder?

Augustus Waiters:  “All I say for sure is to speak for myself, and I’m going to do everything shy of being kicked out and/or arrested. If people want to follow my lead, I’ll welcome them with open arms. Ultimately, I think this team on the field will be a success, and so I’m sure our city will be right behind them.”

Taylor Sorrels:  “On a scale of one to murder, I’m shooting for a six.”

Referees and opposing fan bases may not be safe in Louisville (just kidding they will welcome anyone, probably).  The team will be entering into the 2015 USL season in the Eastern Conference and currently have season tickets on sale.  They are selling the season tickets starting at $180 bucks for 14 home games and you can pick your seating location.  The tickets are available at their site, here.

About the Author

Michael Gray

Law student, recovering musician, writer, Stark of Winterfell.


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