Rivalry Renewed: Lightning Host Kings Friday Night in Season Opener
Louisville and Cincinnati have long been rivals in many aspects. Similar in size and sharing the Ohio River, the two cities often compete for employers and attractions. Both cities are led by major, urban universities that find themselves as conference rivals in sports. While Cincinnati has the Reds of Major League Baseball, Louisville has their Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats. The similarities between the two midwestern cities are numerous, but the Ohio River isn't the only thing flowing between the two cities.
When the Louisville Lightning was formed in 2009, it was only natural that a rivalry with the then-Cincinnati 1790 Express would follow. Before the two teams ever took the pitch, they became intertwined. Lightning general manager David Horne spent time with Cincinnati before the Lightning came into existence. The Louisville native played for the Kings' outdoor team in 2007 in the USL 2 League. Horne then played for Cincinnati in the 2008-2009 season; their first in the PASL. He was a member of the championship semifinalist team that lost to the Stockton Cougars in the title game. In fact, it could be said the Lightning may have never happened at all if Horne had not cut ties with Cincinnati in 2009. "I was driving two and a half hours to practice almost every day and it was exhausting. I knew there were talks about starting a team in Louisville, so I approached the ownership about helping with that," Horne said. "I used my experience with Cincinnati to get things started here with the Lightning," he stated.
The Lightning began play just one year ago, and the rivalry with Cincinnati started a bit lopsided. Cincy took three out of four games from the Lightning, and the rivalry quickly escalated. The Lightning players chalk it up to inexperience, and most think season two will bring much different results.
"Rivalries are a part of every sport and league; great rivalries are built over time," said Lightning defender Jonathan Kincheloe. "Our budding rivalry with Cincinnati is on a fast track due to the fact that we play so many times throughout the season. They are our top competition, no doubt. I feel we were the better team last year, but their experience and knowledge of the indoor game won out," he stated.
Despite just one season of competition between the two sides, it could be argued that bad blood was there before the two sides ever met. Four of the Kings' players played college soccer at the University of Cincinnati. Five of the Lightning players played for the University of Louisville, while new Lightning signee Scott Stockum played for the University of Cincinnati. The Lightning also have two more players who played college soccer in the Cincinnati area. Any resident of either city could easily tell you about the collegiate rivalry between the Cardinals and the Bearcats, so the rivalry's transition to the pro ranks was an easy one.
Stockum, who now has experience on both sides, didn't mince words when talking about the rivalry between the two. "Cincinnati better train hard and be prepared for us, because we are jacked up about taking it to them in all aspects of the game in our season opener," he said this week.
Emotions don't win games, however, and the Lightning players also have a great deal of respect for their neighbors up interstate 71. "Cincinnati was simply the best team in the league last year," said Lightning star Tony Jouaux. "What a great challenge to start the season with one of the biggest games of the year. Our best game last year was the win over them at home in front of a record crowd. Starting the season against the best opponent is going to tell you right away if we have chances to win the league this year," the French-born midfielder stated.
While Cincinnati has made some changes (their name, for example, shifting from '1790 Express' to 'Kings'), much of the team's core returns from last season. Ten players, including PASL MVP Jeff Hughes, return for the 2010-2011 season. Kings' stalwarts Craig Salvati, Sam Fiore, Chris Dobrowolski, Matt Breines, Garrett Buck, Jeff Henderson and Shawn Rockey are also back. Hughes and Breines combined to score an astounding 62 goals last season, and Cincinnati had four of the top 20 points leaders in the league last season.
For all the team returns, it may be what's new that has Cincinnati soccer fans buzzing. They signed former Colorado Rapids star Kwame Sarkodie and Rochester Rhinos' defender Kenneth Bertz during the offseason. With so much returning firepower, Hughes says the Kings are still focused ahead of Friday's season opener. "We work for each other with only one goal in mind: win as a team. Think about the best teams in sports and some of the best athletes; they work together for one goal and get there through hard work," he stated on his blog earlier this week.
Still, the Lightning feel a full season has given them the experience and maturity needed to overtake Cincinnati this time around. "This year we are out to prove a point," defender Nick Staggs indicated. "There is no doubt that Cincy has a good team, but last year they got the better of us in our rookie season. We have a year of experience under our belt and we fully intend to show it on November 12th," he said.
Patrick Bueno grew up in South Carolina and played professionally in Canada before joining the Lightning, but he says he felt the rivalry's intensity shortly after signing with Louisville. "There is nothing like the feeling of stepping onto the pitch in a game where only blood matters. With screaming fans and first place on the line, we want to make a statement with the way we play. You come to our house, you better be ready for war," the defender stated this week.
Kincheloe added that this year's Lightning squad is more prepared to handle Cincinnati's explosiveness. "This year will be different, no doubt. I am excited about the opening game against them; they spoiled our opener last year because we were not prepared. This year we are ready and we have some great new faces to add to the seasoned crew," he said. "I am interested to see if they have added any new faces or if they are going to spend another season relying on their keeper and MVP Jeff Hughes. It is going to be a great start to a great season for the Lightning," Kincheloe added. The Lightning can kick off that great start with a big win over their regional rivals Friday night.
The Louisville Lightning host the Cincinnati Kings Friday night in the PASL season opener. Kickoff from Mockingbird Valley Sports Arena in Louisville is set for 8 PM. Fans can also take advantage of Lightning Happy Hour Friday night prior to the match. From 6:45 until 7:50, all domestic beers will be just $1.
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Professional Arena Soccer League Stories from November 12, 2010
- PASL-Pro Gamenight (November 12) - PASL
- Rivalry Renewed: Lightning Host Kings Friday Night in Season Opener - Louisville Lightning
- Cincinnati Kings season begins tonight in Louisville - Cincinnati Kings
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