Soccer surging in Louisville

| December 15, 2010

I never thought I’d say this, but excitement for soccer in Louisville is at an all-time high. A city known for basketball (and more recently, football) excellence is suddenly embracing the world’s game, and it’s a welcome addition to the sport landscape in Louisville. The University of Louisville men’s soccer team has proven that the previously-mocked slogan “The Best College Sports Town in America” was indeed a premonition that few saw coming.

Soccer’s sudden surge in Louisville isn’t limited to the Cards’ success, however. Across town at Mockingbird Valley Sports Complex, the Louisville Lightning is enjoying some unprecedented attention as well.

General Manager David Horne is becoming the next Ryan Seacrest, as it seems he’s on TV or in the newspaper nearly every day.

The Lightning also just finished its first road trip of the season, making a western swing that took the team to Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, Calif. The squad picked up its first victory against La Revolución de Tijuana in the hostile home of the previously-unbeatable Mexican team. Two years ago, professional soccer in Louisville was simply a dream. Now in season two, the Louisville Lightning is making international road trips, winning games, and more importantly, winning fans.

It’s not difficult to find something to peak your interest at a Lightning game. Sure, there is the fast-paced action, which often resembles a cross between soccer and hockey (glass,  walls and bloody open wounds included). And for those who complain there isn’t enough scoring in soccer, the Lightning found the back of the net 25 times in their game Friday night. But 20 yards away from the field are $1 happy hour beers, and three guys dressed in head-to-toe yellow spandex banging on drums and chanting during the game. Behind the far corner of the field is a kids’ zone with inflatables, a DJ spinning during the game, and the Lightning Ladies Dance Team, which performs at halftime and during timeouts. Some might expect to see elephants paraded out and a trapeze artist suspended above the field, rather than the sheer technical game of soccer many see on television.

The events and attractions bring fans in, but once you’re there, you see something more. You see three guys on the current team with Major League Soccer experience, the highest level of professional soccer in America. You see players with legitimate skill, including five former Louisville Cardinals who paved the way for the current national finalists. You see a hard-nosed physical battle combined with footwork finesse just feet in front of you.

The Cardinals’ season may have come to a close, but the soccer resurgence in Louisville is just beginning. The Lightning host the reigning Professional Arena Soccer League champs this Friday when the San Diego Sockers come to town. Mockingbird Valley Sports Complex will be packed with fans and attractions, but we promise – no elephants. I

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