FC Cincinnati fans would never admit it, but Louisville City FC might be just the catalyst to spark the Orange and Blue from its current tailspin.
The two squads were bitter rivals in the USL and reunite Wednesday at Nippert Stadium in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.
While FCC made a name for itself with success in past Open Cup play, interim coach Yoann Damet said the squad is very aware of the challenge Louisville City represents.
“Yes, it's a good challenge,” Damet said. “It is good for the fans. It is good for the club, too. Everybodys looking forward to it.”
FCC has fired a head coach, named a new general manager, and watched a promising start disappear while falling to 3-11-2, and now the team faces a Louisville City squad which continues its dominant ways.
Back-to-back USL Cup champions, Louisville City is 7-4-3, just five points behind current conference leader Tampa Bay.
While FCC fans have wondered when the Orange and Blue will turn it around, maybe a home game against a hated rival which sits only 100 miles away will change the fortunes.
“Yes, we are still working on the plan but we obviously take this game very seriously,” Damet said when asked about improvement while still focusing on this game. “We want to give them our best shot. We want to make sure we are focused on us, how we want to play. So we will see what the plan is depending on what players that are going to play.”
Fans on both sides remember the historic clashes from 2016-18 in the River Cities Cup between the two, a rivalry that became so heated it was renamed the Dirty River Derby.
The two teams met 10 times over a three-year period, with each winning four times.
FCC fans still defend Djiby Fall after his biting incident in 2017; he was still sitting a six-game suspension from league play when his goal proved to the game-winner in the U.S. Open Cup a month later.
In the middle of the MLS international break, FCC is also dealing with a lackluster 5-2 losing effort at FC New York City in the last game.
FCC has not had a full squad for practice leading up to the Louisville City game but Damet said his squad will be ready.
“For now we are dealing with injuries and the group is pretty light with the call ups,” Damet said. “We are dealing with a small group for now and like I said we are going to put the best group together.”
As a former USL team, FCC had to play its way in but now as an MLS expansion squad, FCC is automatically advanced to the fourth round.
Damet is hoping some of the old magic can be rekindled for FCC this year.
“Yes, of course, it is new competition and we want to use it to bring some freshness back to the group,” Damet said. “In this competition anything can happen. You can go far like we did with the run we made two years ago. So it is a good challenge for the group. It is fresh motivation and we are looking forward to playing the game.”
Cincy defender Forest Lasso is looking forward to the match and knows just how big the occasion is for the two clubs and their fan bases.
“It’s huge,” Lasso said concerning the rivalry. “Coming from a previous club (Charleston Battery), where Louisville knocked us out of the playoffs my first two years, coming here, I hated them. Once I got to Cincinnati, you could immediately tell the rivalry it had regionally: the rivalry it had with the fans between the cities and especially with the players.”
Louisville City's most recent outing was a 2-1 win over Loudon United on Saturday, their second consecutive win following a 4-1 demolition of the Charleston Battery.
Louisville coach John Hackworth is looking forward to the chance to show their mettle against an MLS side and acknowledges the preparation has special.
"This week is definitely different," Louisville coach John Hackworth said. "The fact that we're playing Cincinnati I think is the biggest factor, but also now the fact that they've gone up to the MLS and we have the opportunity to prove ourselves against a team that's in the highest league. I know for our club, for our fan base, for the players, that's an opportunity that we are going to cherish."
What: U.S. OPEN CUP, 4th round
Teams: FCC vs Louisville City
Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati OH
When: 6:30 PM CT, Wednesday, June 12
Wesley Davidson also contributed to this piece.