Louisville City's brand-new Lynn Family Stadium. Photo by Cole Bollinger/Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The USL Championship returns with a bang on Sunday, July 12 as Louisville City FC opens the brand-new Lynn Family Stadium against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (5 PM ET on ESPN2). When the two teams take the field for the first time since March, plenty of League Two products will be on display.
Fifteen members of Louisville played in League Two during the early years of their soccer careers. Many of those players are regular starters, including Luke Spencer, Napo Matsoso, Antoine Hoppenot, Oscar Jimenez and Brian Ownby.
The same is true on the Pittsburgh side. Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley relied on players like Robbie Mertz, Anthony Velarde and Thomas Vancaeyezeele on the club’s way to finishing first in the Championship’s Eastern Conference during the 2019 regular season. For the 2020 campaign, Pittsburgh’s roster features that trio plus eight more League Two alumni.
It may be just one game, but it’s a significant one. The fixture is the first marquee matchup of the USL Championship’s restart as the first professional sports league in the United States to play games in home venues, rather than a hub model.
As with the 2019 Championship Final, which featured 20 League Two products between Louisville and Real Monarchs, the prevalence of players with League Two experience on Championship rosters continues to play a major role in the ever-improving quality of the league.
Pittsburgh's Thomas Vancaeyezeele, once a standout with Mississippi Brilla in League Two, in action against Louisville in 2019. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
The path from League Two to the Championship is poised to get even stronger at Louisville City with the introduction of Louisville City U23, the organization’s new development squad.
Originally set to begin competing in League Two in 2020, the U23s will have to wait until 2021 to take the field, but that shouldn’t slow the tremendous momentum the club has built in forming a comprehensive development system for local youth players.
Louisville's Elijah Wynder (right) in action with the club's USL Academy side at the Eastern Conference Event in February. Photo by Cameron Koubek
There’s no better evidence of that system than 18-year-old goalkeeper Muamer Ugarak, 17-year-old midfielder Elijah Wynder and 16-year-old midfielder Damir Beganovic. The trio are all from the Louisville area and signed USL Academy deals with Louisville City’s first team in recent months. Under normal circumstances, they would have had the chance to compete against other elite young players with Louisville City U23 in League Two.
With no League Two season this year, that platform for progressing talent is on hold at the moment. But the signs of increasing youth development infrastructure at Louisville City and other clubs around USL aren’t going away, and those signs will be on display on Sunday night and in plenty of USL Championship matches as the season resumes.