While Louisville City FC seeks MLS bid, players reside in J-Town
Writer / Leigh Harrington
Soccer is a game of transitions, constantly switching between offense and defense, and the ability to navigate these transitions smoothly is often the difference maker. For Kentucky’s only professional soccer team, Louisville City Football Club (LouCity), there is hope not only for great transitions on the field, but in the field itself. Plans were recently unveiled for a dedicated 10,000 seat soccer stadium as part of a bid for a transition from their current United Soccer League to a Major League Soccer status team.
LouCity Director of Media Relations, Jonathan Lintner, explained that Louisville is among many cities submitting bids and that a dedicated stadium is required to bid. For now, the team plays at Louisville Slugger Field and currently has an average attendance of just under 9,000 per game, which would come close to filling the new stadium right away.
“Where we are different than these other teams that are making their bids is that we’re saying we’re going to build a 10,000-seat stadium now because that makes us a financially viable soccer team no matter what division we’re in,” Lintner says. “If the demand calls for it or if we are selected for Major League Soccer expansion that’s definitely expandable to 20,000. For us, the stadium is everything.”
The stadium means a great deal to the players as well.
“It means a lot you know to have a place to call our home,” says midfielder Niall McCabe. “The owners here have put a lot of work into trying to get this built with city officials and stuff like that. They released the renderings and it looks amazing. It gives us that extra boost that we have our own place to call home.”
One of the club’s faithful fan groups is affectionately known as the Coopers. A cooper is a barrel maker, and without them iconic beverages like bourbon cannot be made. Similarly, the Coopers’ role is to facilitate the soccer culture in Louisville and specifically for LouCity. According to Lintner, the Coopers and other fan groups hold tailgating parties, lead the cheers and make sure everyone has a great time at the games.
“We have a really dedicated fan base,” Lintner says. “There are about 5,000 people who are going to be there no matter what and you see them make social media accounts just so they can follow LouCity and talk about their LouCity fandom, so it’s turned into something really special. They’ll do their tailgate all day, and about 40 minutes before the game they’ll pack it all up and have this big march or parade into the stadium and into their section. They have drums and smoke and all that sort of stuff. It’s hard to miss them.”
The hope is that the new stadium planned for the Butchertown area will include an entire district of hotels, retail and entertainment outlets to help support the stadium and team. The success of the team lies not only with the stadium, but with the players. As professional athletes, LouCity players are on contract during the season, which stretches from March through October, with playoffs in November. During the offseason, most players go on vacation, visit their hometowns or pursue other interests. For one LouCity player, Louisville and specifically Jeffersontown has become home.
For McCabe, life has been full of transition lately — first a move to the United States, then to Louisville, major surgery and now to being a father of a newborn son. Born in Dublin, Ireland, McCabe came to America in the fall of 2010 on a soccer Scholarship at Young Harris College – a small school in rural North Georgia. It was quite an adjustment from living in a city of about 1.8 million to the mountain community of Young Harris, boasting a population of only 1,500 or so residents.
Now in his third season with LouCity, McCabe lives in Jeffersontown with the rest of his teammates. He says the moderately-sized community is a good fit for him.
“It was obviously a welcome change after being in New Harris for four years,” McCabe says. “It was nice to get back to civilization if you will and you have everything you need really — stores, shopping malls, so many things to do. I’m a foodie kind of guy, so I’m going to restaurants all the time. It’s not just your chain restaurants, it’s your hole-in-the-wall, independent owners that give the restaurants that kind of unique style.”
Team captain and midfielder Paulo DelPiccolo echoes McCabe’s love of J-town and the entire team’s veracious appetite for local food.
“It’s great,” he says. “The whole east side of the city has great restaurants. It’s close enough to downtown, but even if you don’t want to go all the way to downtown or to the Highlands you’re still in a great area with tons of local businesses and restaurants. So we eat out all the time, and we love our area.”
Lintner says that all the team members live in the same complex in Jeffersontown, where they have workout facilities and everything they need. At the end of the 2016 season, McCabe found out that he needed a hip surgery to secure his readiness to play this year. The surgery and intensive rehab meant that he did not have the opportunity to return to Ireland. Instead, he settled in Jeffersontown and awaited the birth of his first child, Luca Emmet McCabe. Juggling the roles of professional soccer player and dad have been a bit of a transition for McCabe, but the stability he finds in J-town has helped.
“He was born in May at the same time as the Tampa game so I stayed behind,” McCabe says. “We got him home on a Monday and I had to leave for a week on Tuesday so he was home for just 24 hours, and I had to go for a week to Pittsburgh so that was pretty difficult at first, just leaving a mom and new son. With soccer I’m lucky I don’t work a ton of hours or stuff like that. I’m gone until like 11 a.m. and then I’m at home hanging out with him so it’s fun. I’m enjoying it.”
After securing the USL’s Eastern Conference title, the team is feeling excited about advancing to the playoffs and the championship game, which is scheduled for the middle of November.
“We’re thinking that a championship is possible this year,” Lintner says. “It’s kind of finger’s crossed, but we’ll see.”
For those interesting in attending a game, the club’s schedule can be found at louisvillecityfc.com.
“I would just encourage anyone who’s never been to a game to just try one game and they’ll get hooked,” DelPiccolo says. “It’s a blast, and the fans are so much fun and they’re so loud. It’s a great experience, and it’s different from watching any other sport.”
“We’ve got a great team on your doorstep,” McCabe adds. “We want all the support we can get, so come out and cheer us on.”