Editor's Note: Because some of our readers invested quite a bit of time watching Louisville City last season, we decided to give you a quick preview of their 2016 season, even though we will largely shutter our coverage of the USL side, in light of Orlando City fielding its own Orlando City B team in the league.
Louisville City FC will begin its second go-around in the USL on March 26 on the road against the Charlotte Independence, and its home opener will be the following week on April 2 against New York Red Bulls II. Louisville City plays against its OCB cousins at home on April 5 and July 9, and on the road on June 30.
Curious about how Orlando City's former USL affiliate is doing? Look no further...
Year Founded: 2015.
2015 record, place in conference standings: 14-8-6, 2nd place in Eastern Conference.
2015 playoffs: Eastern Conference Final.
Key Additions: Cameron Lancaster (from injury), Chandler Hoffman, Andrew Lubahn.
Key departures: Matt Fondy, Bryan Burke, Juan Guzman.
Projected, ideal starting XI (4-2-3-1): Scott Goodwin; Enrique Montano, Tarek Morad, Conor Shanosky, Sean Reynolds; Guy Abend, Aodhan Quinn; Niall McCabe, Magnus Rasmussen, Kadeem Dacres; Cameron Lancaster.
Overview of team heading into season: Louisville City FC is entering its second season as a professional club after enjoying an incredibly successful first year. Head Coach James O'Connor led Louisville to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference by generating 48 points, which was also good for second in the overall league standings, behind only regular season and playoff champions Rochester. Louisville scored 57 goals in 2015, which was tied with Colorado for first in the league. Star striker Matt Fondy found the back of the net a USL record 22 times en route to a league MVP, which bested the old mark of 20 set by Orlando City's Kevin Molino in 2014. Off the field, the club was as successful as any observer might have hoped for a first year outfit, with Louisville Slugger Field having one of the best atmospheres in the league. Louisville City fans showed up in droves to the tune of an average crowd of 6,765 fans per home game, also good for second in the entire league.
It will be a challenge for the club to match its 2015 success in 2016, however. Fondy and 2015 USL-leading assist man Bryan Burke both left in the off-season for the Jacksonville Armada of the NASL, which was compounded by the departure of midfield regular and team leader Juan Guzman, who left for Colombia. The trio leaves three gaping holes in the Louisville lineup. O'Connor has brought in a crop of exciting new signings, including former MLS Cup winner Chandler Hoffman, to go along with the return of injured striker Cameron Lancaster, who assumes Fondy's old number nine jersey after missing all of last season due to a knee injury. Off the field, Louisville Metro Government officials have been publicly supportive of finding a stadium sight for the fledgling club, though no concrete news has been announced as of yet.
Why you should watch Louisville City in 2016: O'Connor was very outspoken about bringing an attractive, entertaining and attacking style of soccer to the field in 2015, and he delivered. In his second year as a head coach his philosophies will not change, there just may be some new faces to get accustomed to. Expect to see a similarly high-octane, high-scoring attack to go along with an aggressive, pressure-oriented, ball-winning defensive scheme. Combine that attractive style of play with one of the best atmospheres in all of the USL and you have one of the best products in the league. If you like entertaining soccer, there are few better options at the USL level than Louisville City FC.
3 Players to Watch
Enrique Montano: Last season, the rookie left back was a revelation. After being inserted into the lineup due to an injury to Adam West, Montano seized control of his position on the depth chart. His left-footed service on corner kicks was an injection of life into a stagnant Louisville City set-piece attack. Look for a big sophomore year from the Salinas, CA, product.
Kadeem Dacres: All season, Dacres and Bryan Burke combined to be a lethal winger-right back combination and, though his running mate will be gone in 2016, expect big things from Louisville City's No. 7 this year. With a full year of O'Connor's system under his belt, the lightning quick USL veteran hopes to take over some of the assist production lost with Burke's exit.
The starting striker: The preseason competition between Cameron Lancaster and Chandler Hoffman has been one of the most important position battles in preseason camp for Louisville City, and the winner of the competition should prove to be a star in purple this year. Matt Fondy's MVP shoes are big ones to fill, but both are talented and capable replacements. Lancaster sports an English Premier League appearance for Tottenham on his resume, while Hoffman was on a Robbie Keane- and Landon Donovan-led MLS Cup winning LA Galaxy team. The bet here is that Lancaster is the leader in the clubhouse, but fitness may be an issue after a year layoff due to injury.
2016 will be a success if... Louisville City challenges for the both the regular season and playoff crowns. Last year was a near miss in both departments for the first-year club, but the fiery and competitive O'Connor will accept nothing less as success from a talented roster with a solid core and leadership hierarchy in place. The new season has its challenges, but a playoff spot should be the base expectation for Louisville City this year.