The first year for any endeavor in life is one of the toughest for many reasons. You don't know how you'll be received in your community, you're unsure of what the competition will be like and you don't yet know the challenges because it's your first go around. Success, no matter the standard, is anything but guaranteed during the first year of any project; in fact, the odds are stacked against you.
Given these facts, it is without question that Louisville City FC has had a successful first year.
Judging the success of Louisville City is like judging the quality of a pie, except that the pie was arbitrarily created in the middle of a desert by a chef who was given a dimly lit fire and a dirt bike with just enough gas to get him to the nearest Kroger and back.
When the team started, it was an idea housed in an office on 6th Street. You must understand, Louisville, KY has never been a soccer market. We've analyzed the subject before on the old site and, despite reasons to be doubtful, the city embraced this team to the tune of 94,707 total home attendees this season -- good for second in the USL at an average of 6,765 fans per contest. In an American soccer world where attendance is the cause of considerable anxiety by both fans and officials alike, this success cannot be understated.
On the field, the team was more successful than any reasonable observer could have expected. At this time a year ago, Louisville City did not employ a single player. Its coach was entering his first year running his own team and had only just ended his playing career. In short, there was nothing to be sure of except that there was nothing to be sure of.
The team, which Head Coach James O'Connor assembled and coached, finished second in what is arguably the second best league in the United States and Canada, and in doing so became the second-highest scoring team in that league's history. It made it to the semifinal round of that league's playoffs, won two road games in the world's third-longest running open soccer tournament competition, and fought a team in the first division league tooth and nail only to lose in extra time on a fluke goal. It produced a player who will likely win his league's MVP award while also setting its single-season scoring record, in Matt Fondy. It produced a Defender of the Year candidate in Bryan Burke.
It accomplished all this while playing at a baseball facility that was not designed with another sport in mind. The field was one of the smallest professional fields in use. It not only had a retractable pitcher's mound that wasn't always flat, but also used slick AstroTurf, which made remaining afoot a difficult task for a number of players throughout the season.
The playing surface wasn't the only place where Louisville City was less than ideal.
December saw the team's initial president resign under pressure. To continue the analogy, the crust of the pie was scrapped just as it was being placed in the pan.
The affiliation with Orlando City was not what the MLS organization had in mind. It was meant to see several Orlando City players play in Louisville as a means of both strengthening Louisville's squad and of gaining experience for those Lions who had yet to grow their manes. Instead, the one Orlando player who did suit up for Louisville struggled to make an impact, and the affiliation saw an abrupt end in June.
Like I said, when creating a start-up, you can't know what to expect.
With the successes of year one, though, come the expectations of year two. Louisville City has gotten the attention of the community in which it resides; now it needs to maintain it. Will the squad equal or surpass its achievements from 2015? Will fans flock to games in greater numbers? Will local government get behind the idea of a soccer-specific stadium? Will the local media ever learn how to talk about a soccer team? Will the needle move even more than it has already?
With one of the smallest and hardest working staffs in the sport, Louisville City has set the bar high in year one, but year two is looking it dead in the face.