A year ago, Louisville City FC goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh had to watch from the sidelines as his side entered a penalty shootout against the New York Red Bulls II with the Eastern Conference Championship on the line, a pulled groin aggravated early in the second half denying him the chance to make a difference for his side.
On Saturday night, with the two teams facing the exact same situation after finishing level 1-1 after 120 minutes of action in front of 10,047 fans at Slugger Field, Ranjitsingh was on the line, ready to make a difference.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Ranjitsingh. “When it comes to penalties for a goalkeeper, you can only be the hero, you can never be the villain, so for me, I went in there like, ‘I’m going help my team out, save one if I can, save two if I can,’ and I made a couple of saves and helped the team win.”
Ranjitsingh’s pair of saves, the second on New York’s Ethan Kutler to open the fifth round reminiscent of the save made by Red Bulls II goalkeeper Ryan Meara a season ago on Louisville’s Ben Newnam, proved enough as Louisville earned its first trip to the USL Cup in the most dramatic fashion possible.
“It was an incredible, absolutely phenomenal game,” said Louisville Head Coach James O’Connor. “I’m just really proud of all the players, the owners, the supporters. It’s a really, really special night for us.”
With the second-highest attendance of the season on hand, things couldn’t have started out better for Louisville as they looked to turn their third consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Final into the club’s first league silverware. In the 12th minute, Brian Ownby’s pirouetting shot from the top of the penalty area bent into the left corner of the net, sending the massive crowd into an early celebration.
“Luke [Spencer] did all the dirty work for me, won it twice,” said Ownby. “Somehow it just bounced around, I just swung at it and caught enough spin to sneak right in the corner. It was definitely a great feeling to score early.”
Louisville could have added to its lead as the Red Bulls II looked out of sorts in the opening half-hour, with Paolo DelPiccolo’s shot flashing wide of the right post in the 23rd minute. With the hosts unable to take their chances, though, there was always the danger New York could find a way back into the game, and just before the hour-mark the equalizer by Junior Flemmings started to cause some nerves.
Ownby’s third goal of the postseason was part of a strong all-around display by the winger upon his reintroduction to the starting lineup, and he appeared to have a strong claim for a penalty kick after bursting into the penalty area in the 74th minute, only for the pleas to be waved away by referee Sorin Stoica.
Instead, in extra time, it was Ranjitsingh who emerged as Louisville’s hero as a top-level save to deny Ethan Kutler’s fierce free kick from the top of the penalty area kept the game level. Then, with the game set to be determined from the penalty spot, the Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper came through for the biggest win so far in club history, and set off a celebration that saw most of the fans who had been in the stands join the team on the field.
“It’s awesome,” said Ranjitsingh. “You had 10,000 fans rush the field when we’re hoisting that trophy up. The support is unreal, the city has just been so supportive of us from the beginning, since ’15, you can see that soccer has been growing in the city every year, attendance is rising, and mid-November to have 10,000 people in the cold watching the game, it’s a credit to the city for showing their support.”
Ranjitsingh even got caught up the celebration with the fans – “I think five Coopers jumped me a threw me up in the air, I had no control over that one,” he said. “That was my first time crowdsurfing.”
With one game left in the season, and the Western Conference champion Swope Park Rangers set to visit, the knowledge that the side’s work isn’t yet done was still at the back of most minds.
“This is special,” said Ranjitsingh. “Third time’s a charm, we were able to lock this up and now we’ve got Monday to look forward to.”