The local third-division pro soccer club plans to host a potential June 15 clash with first-division team Chicago Fire not in Louisville — but in Lexington.
Louisville City FC would get to play the Major League Soccer team if it beats second-division Indy 11 on June 1 in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Cup is a season-long single elimination tournament in which lower division teams can advance to win match-ups with top level teams.
The LCFC’s clash with Chicago would be a rematch of last year’s fourth round, which saw the Louisville team eliminated 1-0 after overtime.
Louisville City FC plays its home games at Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats, who will host a game there on June 15.
LCFC announced Thursday that it would play the June 15 match at Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on the campus of the University of Kentucky.
Louisville City FC President Amanda Duffy said in the press release that she was excited about the potential match.
“Obviously Lexington is not in Louisville, but the University of Kentucky and Louisville City have always shared a great relationship, and we’re thankful that the University of Kentucky is welcoming us, our supporters and this great and historical American competition to its campus and into a new market in the state of Kentucky.”
The club’s statement indicated that it tried — without success — to secure alternate Louisville area venues — though it declined to specify which ones.
“A lot of dynamics play a role in selecting a venue to compete in,” Duffy said. “Other venues in Louisville were not willing or able to make themselves available to Louisville City while also meeting the minimum standards that the U.S. Soccer Federation has in place.”
The club told IL that it had nothing to say on the matter beyond its press release.
The president of a local LCFC fan club said he was surprised about the location and of the Chicago match and about the UK venue’s capacity, which, at 3,650 is significantly below what the soccer team draws even for regular season home games.
“I think we’re shooting under the target,” said Ken Luther, president of the Louisville Coopers.
In its inaugural season last year, the local soccer club ranked second in attendance in the United Soccer League. Through the first four games this year, attendance had increased to about 6,600 per match, up nearly 30 percent compared to the same period last year.
Luther said it would have been nice to see LouCity host Chicago somewhere in Louisville, such as UofL’s Lynn Stadium. That venue hosts matches of the university’s soccer teams.
Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, which hosts the University of Louisville’s football matches, has a capacity of 55,000, likely too big — and too expensive — to make sense for the soccer club.
However, Lynn Stadium has a capacity of 5,300, more than the assigned Lexington venue.
Kenny Klein, UofL’s sports information director, told IL via email that the university routinely fields — and tries to fulfill — requests for use of its facilities from middle and high schools, clubs, Olympic development teams, the NCAA and other universities.
“I don’t know if there was a specific request made for the use of any of our facilities for the soccer match on June 15, but Louisville City FC principal owner Wayne Estopinal has a great relationship with Tom Jurich, our Vice President/Director of Athletics,” Klein said.
“None of our staff recalls speaking with anyone about an event on June 15,” he added.
He also said that neither Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium nor Lynn Stadium would be available that day. Cardinal Stadium is hosting a football camp, and the university is trying to reduce the use of the soccer field to protect the grass.
“Our men’s and women’s soccer teams do not train on the surface, and we limited the number of matches on the field for our teams this spring,” Klein said. “If we would have had more events, it would have been for our teams.
“In addition,” he said, “there is an area of the field that currently needs maintenance.”
Another possible venue for the soccer match, nearby Owsley B. Frazier Cardinal Park, with a capacity of 2,200, is available on June 15, but Klein said the university has not fielded any requests for use of that site.
Until last year, the university’s men’s soccer team had been a big draw compared to its peers. Its per-match attendance of 3,572 ranked second in the nation in 2014, its first year at Lynn Stadium. The average per match dropped 25 percent, to 2,663, last year, the inaugural season of Louisville City FC, which drew an average of about 6,700 fans at Slugger.
The rivalry could be hurting both teams: In Cincinnati, the newly formed pro soccer club plays at Nippert Stadium, home of the University of Cincinnati football team. FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding told IL this week that the club has drawn an average of 17,000 paying fans — or about 7,000 more than it expected before the season’s start — in part because of the strength of its venue on the university’s campus.
Luther said the struggle to find a venue to host an MLS team reinforces the local soccer club’s need for its own stadium. Club officials have said the lack of a soccer-specific stadium hampers their ability to generate more revenues from tickets, concessions and advertisements. The city of Louisville in January agreed to pay $75,000 to study the feasibility of building such a venue.
Luther said he sees one positive aspect about the potential June 15 match being hosted in Lexington: at least he won’t have to drive to Chicago.