Louisville City FC defender Jimmy Ockford is more than ready to play a role in the USL Championship semifinal against the Tampa Bay Rowdies tonight. With an opportunity to host the USL final if victorious, Louisville City will rely on its experience of playing in its sixth consecutive conference final and on the Pennsbury High School graduate to stifle the talented Tampa Bay attack.
“It’s exciting,” Ockford said this week ahead of the semifinal. “I’m a little nervous. We’ve played a lot of the same teams in the condensed season, so it’s nice to be playing at home where even at 23% capacity, it still sounds like a full stadium.”
This season has been a difficult one for Ockford, who spent much of preseason trying to break into a veteran team eager to return to championship glory after coming close to a threepeat in a 3-1 loss to Real Monarchs in last season’s USL final. After Ockford worked through a grinding preseason, trying to impress his new club, the Covid-19 break in March halted play for over three months just when he was hitting peak fitness.
“There’s only so much you can do on your own. I lacked the competitiveness, training with teammates, and as the break dragged on, there’d be rumors of a restart, so I’d ramp up my training then find out that we’d have a few more weeks off.”
Louisville began with small group sessions with a handful of players in stations across the field, but as the new guy, it took longer for Ockford to settle in.
“They only signed three new players, so we had a team with established chemistry. I wasn’t around everybody, and it was difficult to get that chemistry.”
Adaptability is something Ockford has learned throughout his career. He was a three-year starter at Mount Saint Mary’s when the university dropped the program ahead of his senior season. He tried to return to the Philadelphia area, but his best opportunities were between UNLV and Louisville, who were a few years removed from reaching the College Cup final.
Ockford spent that summer playing with Reading United before joining Louisville, and after playing a majority of his career as a forward and midfielder, he was converted to a center back, started every game, and was named the American Athletic Conference Defender of the Year.
Drafted by Seattle Sounders FC in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, Ockford found himself caught in the transitioning philosophy of MLS clubs who were loaning out older players in order to promote younger players from within. He signed a contract with the first team but played the next three seasons with the New York Cosmos and Sounders II. In 2017, Ockford joined new franchise Reno 1868 FC, where he attracted the interest of their affiliate San Jose Earthquakes.
He played a full season with San Jose in 2018, appearing in 15 games, then spent last season on loan with Nashville SC. But as Nashville transitioned to MLS, the club did not renew his contract.
When asked about the difficulty of facing these changes Ockford said, “Attitude is everything. You have to have a mindset of playing soccer for a living. Having a positive mentality has been my life. The attitude has to stay on point no matter what hand you’re dealt.”
Ockford also credits years at YSC during the offseason where Union academy coach Ryan Richter organizes pick-up games with pro and amateur players three mornings a week. Some of the players have included Jimmy McLaughlin, Louisville City forward Antoine Hoppenot and Joey Farrell, whose Phoenix Rising could meet Louisville in the final if they beat El Paso Locomotive. Kick-off for that game is tonight at 10:30 p.m. EST.
John Hackworth, former Union Academy Director and Head Coach, was instrumental in Ockford’s return to the familiar confines of Lynn Stadium. “I knew him through the Union system, and he said he’d been watching me since my senior year in college. He reached out to me before San Jose dropped my option and said he’d sign me if Nashville didn’t.”
Hackworth managed 57 games for the Union between 2012 and 2014 and has been with Louisville since 2018, leading them to the USL Championship in his first season. He was named the league’s most recent Coach of the Month as Louisville won out their final six games to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
“Playing for him has been amazing. His philosophy of soccer is the best I’ve seen. He’s easy to talk to, has been around the locker room as a player and coach, so he brings that experience and has everyone’s respect.”
Ockford has some familiarity with many of his Tampa Bay opponents. He played alongside Leo Fernandes at Reading and in New York and was also teammates with Sebastian Guenzatti and Lucky Mkosana while at the Cosmos and with Forrest Lasso in Nashville. But he likes Louisville’s chances tonight.
“I think we’re flying right now. We’re very deep, and I’m just hoping to make a difference.”
Ockford has made 11 appearances for Louisville this season, mostly in a reserve role behind a core defense, but a Louisville lead will likely mean an early entrance for Ockford, who will attempt to reach his first USL final.
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs Louisville City FC
Where: Lynn Family Stadium
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
How to Watch: ESPN+