If Louisville City's first ever playoff victory indicates anything, it's that this team already has a flair for the dramatic.
Behind two Matt Fondy goals in extra time, second-seeded Louisville City defeated the third-seed Charleston Battery on Saturday night before a crowd of 8,517 in the USL Eastern Conference semifinal, the club's first ever playoff appearance.
"Obviously, [I'm] very proud," Louisville Head Coach James O'Connor said post-game. "It's a very special night in our short history."
Louisville fielded a lineup that saw regular starters Magnus Rasmussen, Conor Shanosky and Enrique Montano on the bench in favor of Ilija Ilic, Sean Reynolds and Adam West, and regulation time saw two sides battle out an intense, but scoreless, affair. Despite 24 shots between the two sides, the game would be destined for extra time.
"We decided to tweak a couple of things, change a couple of things to try and give us the best opportunity to win. That's nothing against Conor, nothing against Magnus. It's always analyzing the opponent and figuring out the best way to win the game, and I'll always do that," O'Connor said of the lineup changes.
A large reason for the defensive stalemate in regulation was Charleston's game plan to constrain USL record goal-scorer Matt Fondy. The front-runner for the MVP award was kept quiet while Charleston continually put multiple defenders in his area.
"I thought it was very difficult for [Fondy] because he always had two, three men around him," O'Connor said. "It was important that he kept going and showed the fortitude that he did. I thought he showed tremendous will and desire, as did all the players."
That fortitude, will and desire displayed by the Louisville captain would lead to the breakthrough moment in the 107th minute. Fondy met the 10th Louisville City corner of the night with a blistering header, which Charleston's goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper -- who had eight saves in a terrific showing -- could do nothing about.
Fondy would add insurance just 10 minutes later as he dove for the rebound of a saved Rasmussen effort and poked the ball over the line, putting the home side ahead by two goals with just under four minutes to play.
Louisville advances to the Eastern Conference Final to visit the regular season champion Rochester Rhinos, a team that has beaten and drawn with Louisville in two regular season meetings.
"They've had an incredible season," O'Connor said of next week's opponent. "Very difficult to score on. But this team, this group, loves challenges. It's something we're looking forward to and we're excited about the opportunity to go up there and play Rochester."
The game will be played at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester and kickoff will be at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday night. The winner, regardless of who wins the Western Conference final, will host the USL Championship final the following week.
Highlights from the game: