Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Louisville City FC - Indy Eleven (26-06-2021)

I arrive several hours before kick-off in Louisville and drive straight to the stadium to buy a ticket. The Lynn Family Stadium is an absolutely stunning new stadium just outside of downtown, still at walkable distance. Opened in 2020, the 15,304 people stadium has three large stands (with minimum coverage) and one smaller one, and is shared between Louisville City FC (men), which plays in the USL Championship (Second Division) and Racing Louisville FC (women), which plays in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).


Unfortunately, they only sell e-tickets. Moreover, the tickets have to be bought through one provider (and a special app) that charges $10. This is scandalous and yet again shows that soccer is a middle class sports in the US and is very comfortable to keep a clear financial hurdle for poorer people. The cheapest tickets are $20 ($30 with charge) and I get one for $50 ($60) with charge which puts me almost at the half and very close to the pitch. Perfect seat really.


I return to the stadium early, after having found a free parking space just outside the stadium and walk around the stadium a few times. Everything is brand new and the food options are impressive. As it is Pride Month, Louisville City FC has made this Pride Night and, in good pink washing fashion, is cashing in on it.


Interestingly, the national anthem is played before the two teams are on the pitch, I assume to prevent possible controversy over kneeling, but both teams do a 15 second silence circle against racism. Funny how this is uncontroversial. Also quite lame is that Louisville City FC wears special pride jerseys during warm-up but not during the game.


The stadium looks a bit over half full, but the official attendance is 10,927 – I assume they count all season ticket holders, whether they are present or not. The fans are overall middle class and white but with some diversity. The vast majority is decked out in a broad variety of LCFC gear, including special pride gear. I’m somewhat surprised that there are not that many people in the “ultras” block behind the goal — there are several drums and a lot of tifo though.


The game starts at a decent level and is played on a (very dry) AstroTurf pitch, which should make control easier. Quite unexpectedly, in the 6th minute, a Louisville attack over the right side goes in through a deflection. A lucky early lead.


However, just three minutes later Indy has a beautiful counterattack that is headed in perfectly: 1-1. Turns out there are quite a few Indy Eleven supporters in the stadium, including next to me. I guestimate some 250 are in the away section. While Indianapolis is only a two-hour drive from Louisville, it is rare for US sports fans to travel, so this is quite an impressive turnout.


Just five minutes later Louisville is back up, again through a deflection, this time of a shot from 25 meter or so. We are just fifteen minutes in and it is already 2-1. Crazy! Then again, in the 20th minute Indy has another good break and equalizes again: 2-2.


The early evening game is played at 90 F (32 C) but because of a good breeze it is very pleasant in the stand. However, it must be very hot for the players and the pace goes down rapidly. There are some shots at goal, which go just wide, but in the 41st minute the visitors have a rather slow attack and a through ball is finished cold and precise: 2-3. This is also the half time score: what a game!



The second half has a bit of a slow start but in the 55th minute Louisville has a good attack with a smart cross pass, but the Indy goalie saves. The corner is headed just wide. The visitors play very deep in the second half, so deep that they have no one up front to counter with, which also means that they get no time to breath.


In the 68th minute the hosts have a kind of odd ball that is tipped just wide. Five minutes later Indy has its first good chance, but the Louisville goalie saves spectacularly. In the 78th minute a quick attack by Louisville goes in, a deserved and partly self-inflicted would for Indy. 3-3 would also be the final score.


This was an absolutely wonderful football experience, among one of the best and most authentic I have had in the US, certainly outside of the MLS. The Louisville fans are not the most fanatic, but there is a good atmosphere and the stadium is gorgeous. Definitely worth a trip for any groundhopper. I will be back to see Racing Louisville FC!


Tuesday, June 08, 2021

East Atlanta FC - South Georgia Tormenta 2 (08-06=2021)


East Atlanta is the hip part of Atlanta, but East Atlanta FC does not play there. They play in Conyers, a commuter town roughly 25 miles (39 km) east of Atlanta, and should therefore be called East OF Atlanta FC. 



As I arrive at Rockdale Youth Soccer Academy, where they play their games, I directly recognize the ground. I was here 9 years ago, to see a game of Georgia Revolution, which has since moved to McDonough, Georgia.


I pay $8, which is quite a lot of money for a game in the USL Division 2 (roughly Fifth Division in the US), given that the setting would make most amateur football clubs in Europe feel ashamed. I do get a nice ticket though, albeit from a different game (and season?).

There are a few random old wooden bleachers (5 rows each) on two sides of the pitch, where some 100 people sit. The audience is reasonably mixed by class, gender, and race. Many seem to personally know a player (of the home team).


The game starts some 20 minutes late, as the previous game, between the youth teams of the two clubs, was delayed because of lightening. The weather has been playing up in the last days, but, despite predictions of rain, today was dry until roughly one hour before the game. Around 19.50 the game finally starts.


In the 3rd minute Tormenta has a chance but the East Atlanta goalie saves the shot from close by, which goes straight at him. The corner is headed just over the goal. At that time, the clouds become darker and darker and the wind is picking up. Like many others, I am starting to look for cover, when the game is being stopped for possible lightening.


Shortly after 20.00 the rain comes down hard, followed by lightening. I decide to head back to Athens, which is an hour north, as I have no desire to wait for 30 minutes in my car. As I’m typing this report at home, I see that the game restarted at 21.30 and East Atlanta FC won through a goal in the 90th minute, roughly at 23.00.


It is rare for me to abandon a game so easily, but I think I need a break from USL Division 2 for a while. It just has barely any resemblance of professional football and most clubs lack any culture or identity.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Asheville City SC - Charlotte Independence 2 (01-06-2021)

On a Tuesday evening, I drive up to Asheville, a cute alternative-hipster town in the western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a 3-4 hour drive from Athens, GA, depending on whether you go the functional or scenic route. On the menu is yet another game in the USL League Two (roughly the Fifth Division), this time in the Deep South Division, between Asheville City SC and the second team of Charlotte Independence.


Asheville City SC was founded in 2016 and played in the 3rd Southeast Division of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) before joining the USL League 2 in 2019. They play their home games in the soccer stadium of the University of North Carolina Asheville, which is just a pitch with a few small bleachers on one long side. I get in for free, as someone had an extra ticket and paid it forward.


While this means no ticket, I was lucky, as I later read on the website that the game was sold out. They didn’t mention the number of spectators, but I guesstimate some 250 to 300 people. The fans are very (upper) middle class and very white. They are also quite young, although relatively few kids (more students). There is a small group of “ultras” with drums and horns who mostly make "smart" remarks.


The game seems to be played on real grass, although the pitch is suspiciously even. The players are young, early- to mid-twenties, probably several college players, and there are again very few African American players. The quality of passing and control is quite poor, particularly given the dry but flat pitch, and the pace is not too high. Still, the game flows from side to side with quite a lot of (half) chances.


In the 19th minute Asheville has a long and deep cross pass that the striker takes directly, with the inside of his foot, but the goalie saves it spectacularly in the short corner. The hosts continue to pressure and in the 26th minute a player gets the ball almost free in front of the goal (at some 5 meters) but he hits it with both of his legs.



In the 30th minute the visitors get a ball into the box, which is headed through, but easily picked up by the Asheville goalie. A few minutes later a Charlotte defender gives a too soft pass back but his goalie courageously hits the ball just a second before the striker can kick it. Just before half time, a free kick is missed by the Asheville goalie, but, after few pinball moments, he can pick it up after all. Half time score: 0-0.


The game restarts at a much higher pace. In the 48th minute Charlotte Independence 2 scores out of quick attack. To my surprise, there are actually some people in the audience applauding. Not that Charlotte is far away, just a 2 hour drive, but few people travel in the US, let alone for a second team – the first team of Charlotte Independence plays in the USL Championship (kind of Third Division). I went to see them in 2015 (report here).


Just a few minutes after the opener, the hosts score from a rebound: 1-1. Not much later, an Asheville striker is fouled just outside of the penalty box. The free kick leads to a header that goes just over. In the 55th minute a quick counter by the hosts leads to a good cross but a terrible finish, meters from goal.


In the rest of the second half there is a lot of movement of both teams that lead to (half) chances on both sides. However, given that both the control and the passing is not very good, few of the finishes end between the posts and few challenge the goalies. Hence, the final score remains 1-1.


Overall, it was a quite entertaining game, despite the mediocre individual quality of the players. It never felt as a (semi) professional soccer game though, which technically the USL League 2 isn’t, but rather a summer evening game of two local teams. Still, if you are in Asheville, which is a town definitely worth visiting, and you can catch a home game of City SC, do it.