If it's true that a draw at home feels like a loss, then it must also conversely be true that a draw on the road feels like a win. In the span of four days, Louisville City FC has been on both ends of that scenario.
Louisville City 1-1 Rochester Rhinos
In a battle of the unbeaten, Louisville City showed that it won't be intimidated by history. The Rochester Rhinos, three-time champions of the various American second divisions and perennial playoff participants, were by far the better side Thursday night at Louisville Slugger Field, but could only come away with a share of the spoils.
The Rhinos came out as the more aggressive side, winning the possession battle and forcing Orlando City's USL affiliate to defend for extended periods of the early going. However, LCFC would respond.
After regaining a foothold in the match, the hosts were the first to find the back of the net in the 36th minute. Team captain Matt Fondy showed, again, why he wears the armband by chasing down and battling a Rochester defender for a long ball inside the Rhino box.
After winning the ball, Fondy calmly made a cut towards the center of the park, passed a Rhinos defender, and teed up midfielder Juan Guzman with a pass into open space. Guzman's first-time finish was slotted perfectly past keeper Adam Grinwis, and Louisville took a 1-0 lead. It was the third time in as many matches that Louisville struck first and led at halftime.
"You have to kind of read between the lines to see all that Matt helps us out with," Louisville City goalkeeper Scott Goodwin said of his captain. "Just an incredible hustle play like that, where most people wouldn't chase it down, turns into a goal."
"I think Matt's work-rate, if you look at how hard he works, is tremendous," Head Coach James O'Connor said of Fondy. "You look at how he wins the ball back and how he sets the goal up, fantastic. Great strike from Juan. Exactly what we want."
In the second half, however, Rochester would show the grit and determination that has seen them into the playoffs in all but one year of the club's existence.
The Rhinos took control from the second half kickoff, finishing with a 12-2 advantage in shots after the break. The Rhino persistence paid off in the 68th minute, as a Rochester free kick from around 25 yards out was blocked by the Louisville wall but not totally cleared.
Rochester worked the ball back into the mixer, and forward Alex Dixon was found streaking towards the right side of the Louisville box. Dixon fired a shot directly at Goodwin, but it proved too powerful for the ex-North Carolina Tar Heel to save. The equalizer was Dixon's second goal of the season.
After both sides missed a few chances to bag a late winner, the match would end at 1-1, preserving both sides' unbeaten status. After the match, O'Connor was disappointed to see the three points slip away.
"I think we were a little bit naive at times in the second half," the Irish ex-midfielder said. "I think we needed to play quicker, and do a couple of things differently. But, look, its a learning curve. At the moment, if it was the other way around, where if we'd finished the first half [down], well we'd be saying, 'No, it was great.' I think that's just a natural instinct.
"From out point of view, from the coaching staff point of view, it's pleasing to see the players disappointed and frustrated, because we want to be the very best we can be."
Highlights from the Rochester Match:
Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1-1 Louisville City
For his efforts against Rochester, midfielder Kadeem Dacres was named Man of the Match, but he saved his best performance for later in the week.
Only three days after drawing Rochester at home, Louisville City reversed its role and played visiting spoiler against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Dacres was cast as the hero (or villain, depending on your perspective), and scored the stoppage time equalizer in a dramatic finish.
After allowing Pittsburgh to score off a set piece in the 38th minute, Louisville had come up empty against a game Riverhounds defense and keeper. After his team had worked hard for an equalizer the entire second half, Danish midfielder Magnus Rasmussen went down easily in the box while going for a ball that Dacres had headed down.
Despite minimal contact, the referee pointed to the spot, gifting a desperate Louisville side a chance to equalize in the 86th minute.
Fondy, scoreless so far this season despite leading the team in goals in preseason, stepped up to the penalty spot and sent a low, hard shot to the keeper's right. However, the Hounds' number one, Ryan Thompson, read it perfectly and made a diving save. In a scramble in the box, Fondy collected the rebound and got a shot away that was again saved by Thompson. Bryan Burke had another effort at goal that went high over the bar, and it seemed that Louisville had squandered its good fortune in the Steel City.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Dacres had something to say about that.
Late in stoppage time, Dacres was found in space by defender Conor Shanosky and cut the ball onto his left foot. From about 25 yards out, Dacres beat Thompson inside the near post with a shot that will go down in early Louisville City lore. Dacres had equalized, and in doing so saved Louisville City from its first loss in competitive play.
"He made a nice cut inside and made a great strike," O'Connor said of Dacres' goal, via Louisville City's official site. "He's played well all game. He played on Thursday. Kadeem works really hard and it was nice to see him get rewarded.
"We're obviously very pleased to get a point under the circumstances. The first half, we didn't play with the intensity that we can. I thought the second half was better, but there are things we need to improve on. We need to work on our spacing and set pieces. But overall we're pleased to get a point on the road."
Louisville City (1-0-3, 6 points) sits alone in fourth in the USL Eastern Conference standings. They next play at home against the Tulsa Roughnecks on Saturday at Louisville Slugger Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
- Orlando City loanee Sidney Rivera was not listed in the 18 for either match, and is still out rehabbing a groin injury. In fact, Louisville City wasn't able to field a full bench in either match, due both to injury and open roster spots.
- Orlando City President Phil Rawlins made a stop in Louisville on his way to Ohio for the Lions' match with the Columbus Crew, and he was pleased with what he saw from both his USL affiliate and the 4,722 fans in attendance. "I thought [it was] a very good atmosphere. Great crowd for a Thursday night when you've got a lot of rain during the day, so I was really pleased with that. I thought the crowd really got into it and got behind the team, and I thought the team played very, very well."
- I asked Rawlins if he might be able to say who else, besides Rivera, that the Lions will be sending down to USL. He responded with a smile: "You know I couldn't do that, but good question."