Supporters of Louisville’s professional soccer club sang songs, banged drums and chowed down on pretzels and nachos during Saturday’s second season home opener at Slugger Field.
As dark grey clouds hovered over the stadium and a cool wind prompted some spectators to huddle together, hardcore fans in the supporters section showed their Louisville City FC pride with purple shirts — and purple hair — and taunted the opposing team with chants of “You can’t do that.” Other attendees offered more gentle support, but even some younger soccer fans tried to amplify the hardcore fans’ ruckus by blowing into vuvuzelas.
Team officials said they were pleased with the attendance of about 7,500, which was up more than 1,000 over last year’s season opener.
Meanwhile, the president of a local fan club said that while team support is growing, attendance needs to increase even more if LouCity, which plays in the third division United Soccer League, wants to have a realistic shot at eventually playing in the first division.
Team owners want the club to play in Major League Soccer in the long run — though they have to overcome the more immediate challenge of building a soccer-specific stadium to comply with the wishes of USL leaders and to generate more revenues.
Growing fan support
Some fans gathered at Troll Pub Under the Bridge on East Washington Street hours before the game to grab some food and quench their thirst. Others congregated on the sidewalk in LouCity FC gear in mutual anticipation for the march to the stadium. A pub employee told IL that the soccer supporters keep the pub busy during what is typically a lull between basketball and baseball seasons. Two blocks away, at Bluegrass Brewing Co., an employee said the soccer fans’ purchasing power has but a small impact.
Spectators also rallied in the parking lot west of the stadium, waving flags, sitting in chairs and consuming some calories to prepare for nearly two hours singing and chanting, including the favorite “Oh, Lou-i-ville ci-ty” to the main riff of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”
LCFC President Amanda Duffy said Monday that spring break likely depressed the attendance somewhat, but she was nonetheless pleased with the number of spectators.
Season tickets sales, too, have increased compared to last year at this point.
“I feel very strongly that we have one of the finest … experiences in USL,” Duffy said.
The club, in its second season, is still learning about the response it is getting in the marketplace, she said.
Ken Luther, president of the Louisville Coopers, one of the team’s fan clubs, said fan support and organization certainly has improved from a year ago.
“The drums, as usual, rocked the stadium,” he said.
Luther often spends his time on a small piece of scaffolding, facing the hardcore fans, using his bullhorn to coordinate the chants. He said he often catches the portions of the matches he missed on YouTube.
Supporters still have some work to do to better coordinate their singing, Luther said, and the stadium has some work to do to get fans into their seats more quickly, but overall, the club and supporters are way ahead of where they were last year at the beginning of the season.
The vocal support from the LouCity faithful was not enough to help the team win Saturday. LouCity lost 0-2 against the visiting New York Red Bulls II. The home team controlled possession in the first half and looked the more dangerous team, but the Red Bulls’ offense proved more effective, capitalizing on one of its few forays into the LouCity half.
Neither team created many chances in the second half — perhaps hampered by the occasionally gusty wind. A Louisville turnover at midfield with 12 minutes to go in the game lead to a speedy counterattack and the second goal, which sealed the visitors’ victory. LouCity had a goal disallowed in stoppage time, as a Louisville player was judged to have unfairly interfered with the opposing goalkeeper, but the goal likely would not have changed the game’s outcome.
LouCity now has one win and one loss for the season — though it was unbeaten in preseason.
The importance of attendance
Luther said while attendance was up from last year’s home opener, he had hoped for about 1,000 more.
A lot will hinge on the team’s athletic success, he said. Another successful season could push attendance near 10,000, he said, but otherwise it likely will remain near 7,500.
And that would not be enough to compete with teams in Cincinnati and Indianapolis for a spot in Major League Soccer, Luther said.
“We gotta start pulling some bigger numbers,” he added.
Attendance also plays a critical role in the team’s bid to build a soccer-specific stadium in Louisville. The league said last year it wants all clubs to have such a venue by 2020 — though what will happen to USL teams that do not have a stadium by then is unclear.
Louisville Metro Government has agreed to pay $75,000 to study the feasibility of constructing a new 8,000- to 10,000-seat stadium in four potential areas, including downtown. The stadium is to be expandable to about 20,000 seats to keep alive the club owners’ hopes to eventually join Major League Soccer.
Both club and city officials are mum on the stadium’s potential locations, cost and who would pay.
The club will get another chance — for more points and fans — on Saturday, when it hosts Orlando City B at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available here.