The Louisville City FC Academy made history Sunday by becoming the first club from Kentucky to win a division of the Dallas Cup, a prestigious Easter week tournament featuring amateur squads around the world.
Second half goals by Kyle Kimberling and Cole Varela rallied LouCity to a 2-1 victory over Dallas Texans FC in the 19U final. The game, which aired on ESPN+, was played at Toyota Stadium, home to Major League Soccer’s Dallas FC.
The boys in purple went unbeaten in group stage play before storming through the knockout rounds, showing a bright future for the club’s professional team that competes in the USL Championship.
Three players signed to USL Academy contracts — amateur deals allowing Issac Cano, Colin Elder and Travis Smith to also play this season for the pro side — all started the final. Former LouCity pro Luke Spencer coached the team in his role as an academy director.
“What a major accomplishment for our academy, Luke and the team,” said Mario Sanchez, head of the LouCity and Racing Academy. “The Dallas Cup is one of the most prestigious international youth tournaments, and for our academy to win it says a lot about what we are doing for youth soccer in our region.”
Dallas Texans SC opened scoring in the 35th minute, but the second half was largely dominated by the boys in purple, who peppered their opponents with chances before breaking through.
Kimberling equalized on a brilliant left-footed shot from distance in the 53rd minute, and he nearly gave City the lead when later hitting the bar on a 66th-minute free kick. The winning moment, however, belonged to Varela. He got in behind the defense and slipped a shot past the keeper in the 86th minute before being mobbed by his teammates in celebration.
"It's a great feeling," Spencer said. "Winning this is one of the goals that this group in particular set months ago for what they want to accomplish this season. So I'm happy for them, and I think it sets the tone for the rest of our teams that want to show up to events. The goal is to win them, and it's realistic that it can be done."
Spencer, the goal-scoring hero of LouCity's 2018 USL Championship Final victory, spoke from championship experience with his team needing to come from behind at the half.
"I think there was a little hesitation in the first half, and there was some fatigue. This is six games in eight days," Spencer said. "I told them to trust themselves and give them the best chance of winning. You do that by going for it and not holding back. If you give everything you have, you can live with the result either way. If you hold back, you'll have some regrets."
The Dallas Cup, inaugurated in 1980, counts alumni ranging from legends of the game such as David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Wayne Rooney to the current generation of stars including Alphonso Davies, Bukayo Saka and Weston McKennie.
Launched in 2020, LouCity’s youth academy has already seen five players so far earn pro contracts with the first team: Owen Damm, Carlos Moguel Jr., Sebastian Sanchez and brothers Elijah and Josh Wynder. Combined with Racing Louisville FC's sister academy built in support of the National Women’s Soccer League side, Louisville’s youth clubs now number more than 1,500 players.