When mid-fielder Charlie Adams scored Louisville’s second goal of the day, en route to a 2-0 Louisville City FC win over visiting St. Louis FC in Louisville’s home debut, the crowd of about 6,000 people stood and cheered. People high-fived. Flags waved. Purple smoke billowed into the air, provided by a smoke bomb in the raucous boosters’ section.
Chants broke out in the small stadium.
At least for one afternoon, a basketball-crazy city sure had the look of a pro soccer town. Or at least the beginnings of one.
Of course, many who attended on Saturday were likely just curious; 13 more home matches appear on the team’s schedule, and summer fun will provide plenty of competition for Louisvillians’ entertainment dollars. But for the time being, Louisville City FC’s brass, along with the city’s hardcore soccer fans, have to be happy.
Scott Henry is a recently transplanted Louisvillian who was among the curious in the crowd. At the intermission, after Louisville’s lads mostly dominated St. Louis while taking a 1-0 lead into the intermission, Henry was impressed with the new team.
“I didn’t expect them to control it as much as they have,” he said.
For others, it was a good reason for a family outing. It was a brisk, sunny day, perfect for being outdoors with a light jacket, and perfect for the many fans sporting Louisville City FC scarves.
“I’ve been so excited about this happening, right from the start,” a scarf-clad Rebecca Matheny said, noting that she brought her family to the opener.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “We’ve had a blast.”
Travis Childress is another Louisvillian who attended the event, but he’s a bit more hardcore, having followed the sport for about 15 years. He’s a fan of the English Premier League and said he is an avid Manchester United supporter.
“Soccer’s just good fun,” he said. “There’s no sport played more in the world than this.”
The concourse at Slugger Field, which serves as Louisville City’s home pitch, was elbow to elbow during the break. The merch table on the third-base side of the stadium was stacked 10 deep at times. Two white signs hung on the purple tent reading, “Scarves Sold Out.” Oh well. There were still plenty of T-shirts, hoodies, jackets and jerseys being snatched up. (The people working inside the small tent seemed every bit as harried as St. Louis goalkeeper Mark Pais.)
Soccer fever was in the air. Heck, Against the Grain, the brewery housed in the Slugger Field building, even had a special brew on tap called Ball Control Pale Ale for the occasion.
The question is, can soccer fever last? Especially in hoops-happy Louisville?
“I would very much like it to” keep gaining momentum, Childress said. “It just depends on the exposure. If it gets the exposure, it absolutely has a chance to.”
“They’re affiliated with an MLS (Major League Soccer) team,” Henry said. “Hopefully, that will help keep it going.”
The product on the field sure didn’t hurt; an up-tempo attack style meant no lulls in the action, at least when Louisville controlled the ball. The enthusiasm of the home crowd reflected that.
Wayne Estopinal, a principal owner of Louisville City FC, was pleased with the first home contest. It was a win on the pitch and a win for the community.
“Today was the start,” Estopinal said. “We will get better. I do think (the crowd) enjoyed the quality of soccer the boys put on the pitch. The stadium was great. Now we need all the hardcore soccer fans who came today to bring a friend and let them experience pro soccer Louisville City-style.”
Even the beer vendors were happy. Jerry McGrath, who slings suds for the Louisville Bats when they’re at home, said it was every bit as busy as a well-attended Bats game. By early in the second period, he had gone through four cases of beer out of his plastic tub.
“It’s a great day at the ballpark,” he said.
Possibly the first of many more to come.