By James Natsis

Louisville City FC goalie Scotty Goodwin | Photo by James Natsis

Louisville City FC goalie Scotty Goodwin | Photo by James Natsis

As the goaltender gathers up a harmlessly rolling ball and tosses it out to one of his defenders, the Louisville Coopers — a fan club of Louisville City FC — leads a chant and rhythmic drum line: “Scotty Goodwin, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,…Scotty Goodwin, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.”

That same chant accompanied by a hand clap resounds from the backseat of my car as my 10-year-old son, Ashton, must have been singing it to himself. Of course, I chime in, “Scotty Goodwin, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.”

Louisville City fever? Soccer mania? After Saturday night’s playoff victory against the Charleston Battery, many of the 8,517 fans in attendance may think so.

But what’s certain is in the numbers: A first-year expansion team in the 24-team United Soccer League (USL), Louisville City Football Club (LCFC) finished second in total points and second in total attendance; had the league leading goal scorer, Matt Fondy, and leading player with assists, Bryan Burke; beat an MLS team (Orlando City); and qualified to host a second-round playoff game. All of this in light of being a virtually unknown team in an unknown league scrambling as recently as seven months ago to finalize its roster and finalize negotiations to share Slugger Field with the Louisville Bats.

LCFC general manager Amanda Duffy describes the early days in an email to IL:

The expectations for Louisville City have been high since the outset in 2014 and I knew when I assumed the role of general manager in December that we had an enormous amount of work to do. The front office didn’t really take shape until early 2015, with some staff starting less than two months from the home opener, and everyone was fantastic in learning quickly and working efficiently and effectively; as each new person joined the team it was great to be able to push the pedal a little bit more. There was never a doubt about the potential for the club in Louisville, but I don’t think anyone expected the support from the community would reach the heights that it has so quickly.

This season has been a dream come true for the Louisville Coopers, along with fellow fan club the Louisville Heretics, a supportive mayor, and a growing number of passionate local soccer fans.

Founded in 2013, Louisville Coopers is an independent supporter group of LCFC. The group — run by volunteers — organizes in-stadium support, road trips, tailgates, watch parties and social events. At games, the Coopers’ nonstop chanting, colorful displays and loyal support adds excitement to the experience, and the group’s determination played a big role in Louisville’s entree into the league and growth in attendance.

Ken Luther leads the pre-game ritual cortege to Sugger Field

Fan Ken Luther leads the pre-game ritual procession to Slugger Field. | Photo by James Natsis

Ken Luther, a.k.a. “Capo,” joined the group in December 2013. He describes the passion for the soccer team as a unification of Louisvillians. “It represents the city. We have UK and U of L fans, but we are all fans of Louisville FC … that’s LCFC! 

The passion was in the air Saturday evening despite the cold weather and threat of rain. Matt Fondy scored the winning goal in the second overtime, prompting an elated eruption of joy in Slugger Field followed by a large cloud of purple smoke. LCFC advances and will oppose the USL regular season champion, Rochester, next Saturday in New York.

Team owner Wayne Estiponal and coach James O'Conner | Photo by James Natsis

Team owner Wayne Estiponal and coach James O’Conner | Photo by James Natsis

“The core of our focus in our inaugural season was to lay a solid foundation for the club and provide an exciting product for our fans,” general manager Duffy said. “We accomplished that. We have the will of thousands behind us right now, which we feel every single day. There are a number of new, exciting opportunities ahead for the club and the city of Louisville now, including the ability to have meaningful conversations about a professional soccer stadium and other facilities, only because the Louisville community came out to support not just the team on the field, but the entire organization. We couldn’t be more appreciative.”

LCFC chair and principal owner Wayne Estopinal feels confident about the future. He and several of the players IL spoke with expressed confidence in Coach James O’Conner’s capacity to put a good team on the pitch. He explained that a USL franchise can be a viable business investment and believes Louisville can be competitive in supporting an argument in favor of a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion.

Matt Fondy (left) and Bryan Burke meet a loyal fan, Ashton Natsis | Photo by James Natsis

Matt Fondy (left) and Bryan Burke meet a loyal fan, Ashton Natsis | Photo by James Natsis

In a post-game interview, player Matt Fondy spoke highly of his coach and his time here in Louisville. The California native has played for a number of teams, including in the MLS, yet he insisted that he has never had this type of experience elsewhere.

As someone who sat outside on a cool late-March afternoon to watch the inaugural game versus St. Louis, I agree. This unsuspecting casual observer felt it from the opening minutes — this is the start of something big in Louisville.

Correction: The LCFC’s season opener took place in the (late) afternoon, not the evening, as a dedicated fan and reader pointed out on social media.