Louisville City’s fledgling MLS hopes have been given an emphatic thumbs-up by Orlando City SC head coach Adrian Heath following a 3-1 defeat for his largely second-string Lions team at the hands of the promising USL outfit in a friendly in front of almost 10,000 fans.
The huge weeknight turnout — a record for the first-year Kentucky franchise — vibrant atmosphere and slick performance of the Louisville side all made a big impression on Heath, who has followed a similar lower-league path with his Major League Soccer newcomers.
Louisville are coached by former Orlando City stalwart James O’Connor, and his team collected a deserved victory behind goals from USL marksman Matt Fondy, Juan Guzman and young English star Charlie Adams, while Danny Mwanga replied for the visitors.
It was the first time Louisville had hosted an MLS team (they lost 1-0 away to Chicago in the US Open Cup in June) and the 9,434 attendance ensured a memorable night, which was not lost on Heath.
“I think Louisville could certainly be MLS,” he said. “Obviously, they need to get their own stadium and sort one or two things out, but I don’t see any reason why they can’t. They have great fans and it was a great evening. I was really impressed with everything they have done here.”
Louisville picked up Orlando’s USL credentials this year behind owner Wayne Estopinal, who was also an initial investor with the Lions, and the two teams were officially affiliated until Orlando decided in June to field their own third-division team closer to home starting next season.
O’Connor, who retired as a player at the end of the 2014 season, was immediately tabbed to lead the new team, and he took several ex-Lions with him, including midfielder Aodhan Quinn and defender Bryan Burke.
Louisville currently sit in second in the USL Eastern Conference standings, and a makeshift Orlando lineup featuring just two regular starters, Darwin Ceren and Rafael Ramos, was outplayed for long periods. Heath did not hesitate to direct credit to O’Connor, his former player and assistant coach.
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“I knew James would do well,” Heath added. “That was one of the reasons we put him in for the job. We said to them ‘Listen, if you’re looking for a coach, James O’Connor would be fantastic.’ It’s also great to see Burkey playing so well again, after his bad leg break [with Orlando two years ago]. He’s obviously back to his best.”
Orlando were boosted by the first appearance since preseason of midfielder Tony Cascio, who played 35 minutes in the second half after finally returning from a back injury that had kept him out since March, while backup goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. underlined his credentials with a string of saves against the lively Louisville attack.
“It was nice for our younger guys,” Heath insisted. “I think the one thing it shows them is that it’s tough down there [in USL]. Next year, we will have our own USL team, and it’s also going to be tough in that league.”