The sod is laid, the practices are over and the soccer clubs are prepared for Louisville’s first United Soccer League championship game.
Louisville City FC, currently ranked #1 in its Eastern conference, faces Swope Park Rangers from Kansas City, Missouri on Monday night. The Rangers are ranked #4 in the Western conference.
The winner takes home the USL Cup.
Though it will be the first meeting between the teams, both hold similar records: the Rangers are 17-8-7 to Louisville City FC’s 18-6-8.
Louisville’s club is only in its third year of existence, and this is the first time it has played for the championship. Besides the winning record, Louisville City FC is coming off weeks of contentious debate surrounding public funding for a new soccer stadium. Last month, Metro Council voted to green light the project, which involves $30 million in bonding to purchase land in Butchertown. That stadium is great news for the team, and could pave the way for a Major League Soccer franchise — though that’s not a sure thing.
But right now, Louisville City FC is focusing on the championship game.
“For a cup final, I think both teams will be desperate to win,” said Louisville City FC head coach James O’Connor.
At a press conference on Friday, Swope Park Rangers head coach Nikola Popovic said his team needs to focus and play their way to win. That’s one advantage he said Louisville City FC may already have.
“They have the advantage because of the field, the environment, the atmosphere, the pitch, the grass; they know better than us because we never played here,” Popovic said. “I think it’s two fantastic teams who deserve to be here, and let’s see what’s going to happen. But it’s going to be a fantastic final for sure.”
Preparations for the final started last week.
Workers dropped, cut and rolled sod onto Slugger Field for the game. The sod differs from Louisville’s usual blend of real and artificial turf, affecting how the ball will move on the field.
O’Connor said his team has had an impressive season, climbing the rankings to score a conference-high 62 points. But on Monday, he said emotional stability and ball possession will decide the game.
“Both teams like to play possession football, both teams like to play,” O’Connor said at Friday’s press conference. “So, I think for both teams it’s trying to stomp your toes throughout the game and then equally hope that the players can perform to the levels that they have through the course of the season.”
Monday’s game starts at 9 p.m. and the stadium holds about 8,000 people.
This story has been updated to correct the year of Louisville City FC’s founding.