LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Louisville City FC captured its second straight USL Championship on Thursday night.
The home team edged Phoenix Rising FC, 1-0, at a raucous Lynn Stadium on the campus of the University of Louisville.
LouCity is the first USL team to win back-to-back USL Cups, and although the squad claimed the crown last year, some thought it would be a more difficult road in 2018 because of new personnel and a midseason coaching change.
How did the team respond?
LouCity closed the season on a 10-game unbeaten streak that included five shutouts by goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh.
And Luke Spencer, tabbed as one of three players to be named interim co-coaches following head coach James O’Connor’s midseason departure, had an equally impressive run.
Sitting behind high-scoring forward Cameron Lancaster, Spencer subbed in when Lancaster was injured in LouCity’s Eastern Conference Final win last week, and scored his team’s first goal.
And Thursday, Spencer scored the game’s lone goal when, off a set-piece in the 63rd minute, the ball ping-ponged around the box and eventually found his right foot. Spencer drilled it into the net for what would prove to be the winning score.
John Hackworth, who eventually took over as LouCity coach, called Spencer’s postseason a fairy tale.
“It’s amazing that he spent six weeks on the sidelines being a manager, and he comes in and starts in the championship and he scores the game winner,” Hackworth told ESPN2 after the game, moments after having champagne poured on his head during a live, television interview.
Added Spencer: “Credit to James O’Connor for setting the culture that we have here. And credit to John Hackworth for coming in, taking over a team. The guys bought in right away ... Our standards stayed where they were at, and it showed tonight.”
The game was the last one in the illustrious career of Didier Drogba, who spent his final two seasons suiting up for Phoenix. Drogba, from the Ivory Coast, was at one point one of the best footballers in the game, particularly during a nine-season run with English Premiere League power Chelsea from 2004-12.