St Louis City SC 2 interim head coach, John Hackworth, made his return to Lynn Family Stadium to take on his former club, Louisville City FC, in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The young MLS Next Pro side hung with the two-time USL champs through 90 minutes and extra time, maintaining a 0-0 scoreline, before falling short in penalty kicks, 9-8.
Hackworth suddenly and unceremoniously departed Louisville after the first regular-season match of 2021 and would later join St Louis City SC as director of coaching. Upon his exit, Danny Cruz, a former player and friend of Hackworth, would assume the title of interim head coach of Louisville City before later earning the job permanently. Now, the mentor faced off against his mentee. While both teams fought for an opportunity to advance in the competition, there were undeniable additional motivations for each team to want the win.
It was an uphill battle for St Louis as the team, whose average age is slightly over 20, played defensively, looking for counter-attacking opportunities against a notoriously stingy Louisville defense. City held Louisville to only four total shots (one on target) in the first half, but only found two shots (none on target) for themselves.
The second half drifted even further in the home team’s favor. With over 60% of possession, Louisville City fired off nine shots and four on target to St Louis City’s zero.
In the 59th minute, LouCity found the first serious goal-scoring opportunity. Enoch “Matiti” Mushagalusa dished the ball over to Brian Ownby, whose near-post shot was deflected out.
Only ten minutes later, a Louisville cross in front of the goal was nearly poked in the far post by Napo Matsoso. Wilson Harris had the best opportunity of the night to find a lead when, at the 75-minute mark, he took a shot central in the St Louis City SC box that was kept out of goal by the heroics of goalkeeper Michael Creek who dove and got a single hand on the shot and kept it out.
“We have one goal tonight, gentlemen, and that’s to 𝙖𝙙𝙫𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚.”
And after 120 minutes and 10 rounds of penalties, the boys in purple came out on top to move on to the Round of 32 in the U.S. Open Cup.
— Louisville City FC (@loucityfc) April 21, 2022
The match remained scoreless and crept into extra time as fans’ enthusiasm transformed into nervousness. Only a few shots were registered in extra time as the tactical chess match between Coach Hackworth and Coach Cruz required penalty kicks to determine the victor.
Fans flooded the Waterfront supporters section behind the goal on the northern side of the pitch where the match was to be determined. An early stop of St Louis City’s Max Schneider on the first kick and a miss from Louisville City’s Jorge Gonzalez on his team’s third was the only glimmer of hopes for each side until St Louis’ Dida Armstrong’s shot was saved on the 10th try. 16-year-old Louisville native, Josh Wynder, stepped up to the spot and made his attempt to send Louisville into the Fourth Round of the Cup.
“Tonight felt like a playoff game,” said Louisville City head coach Danny Cruz. “Us doing the penalties, and you see all the crowd over there with everybody loud and screaming — it certainly feels like that and those moments are beneficial for the growth of the group. We had a lot of young guys take penalties in those moments tonight, and I walked away very impressed, and that is not easy.”
Post match, St Louis City SC head coach John Hackworth acknowledged the challenge his team was up against.
“I’m really proud of my team. I don’t know if you guys know — there were a lot of teenagers on the field,” said Hackworth. “To come into this stadium against that quality of players, it says a lot about where they are. They are young and got there in a shot amount of time.”
It was one of the longer penalty kick shootouts of the Modern Era (1995-present). This was just the seventh shootout since 1995 to last 10 rounds of more.
With that result, St Louis City SC 2 has likely seen its last run in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup as next season the senior team will be assembled and joining the fray as a Division 1 MLS contender, thus making them ineligible.
Louisville City, who won their first penalty shootout since the 2017 USL Championship Eastern Conference final against New York Red Bulls 2, will advance to Round 4 for the third tournament in a row and the fourth time in the club’s six all-time appearances. Louisville also remains undefeated in Open Cup play at home, extending the club’s home unbeaten streak to nine games (7-0-2, 2-0 PKs), the third-longest active unbeaten streak in the competition.