Dirty River Derby: A Look Back

With the final regular-season Dirty River Derby chapter on hold, here’s a look back at the FC Cincinnati-Louisville City FC rivalry, including some thoughts from former FCC forward Luke Spencer.

Photo Credit: Alex Vehr

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The bad news for FC Cincinnati fans making the rainy trek to Louisville’s Slugger Field on Saturday is for their troubles, they only watched 38 minutes of soccer. The good news is the Dirty River Derby lives on, if only for a few more weeks.

Match officials halted FCC’s match with Louisville City FC in the first half Saturday with lightning in the area. In the midst of a driving rain, it didn’t take long for them to abandon the match. Play will resume at a later date with FC Cincinnati retaining its 1-0 lead on a 23rd-minute goal from Corben Bone.

With FCC moving up to MLS next season, this is the final regular-season installment of the Dirty River Derby. After the conclusion of this match, the two clubs can now only meet in this season’s USL playoffs or in future U.S. Open Cup tournaments.

Louisville’s Luke Spencer, a Cincinnati native, and former FC Cincinnati forward said he will miss the rivalry.

“As a player, you live for the rivalry games,” Spencer said by phone on Friday. “Those are the games that really get you amped up as a player. It gets the adrenaline going and makes the game mean so much more.”

Spencer has a unique perspective on the derby — he left FCC after the 2016 season and joined Louisville. He scored against his former club in first-half stoppage time in a 5-0 Louisville blowout victory on Aug. 12, 2017.

That game is Spencer’s favorite in the rivalry, he said.

“I don’t think I was given a good shot for the first year that I played for Cincinnati,” Spencer said. “The second year, having moved to Louisville, I just really wanted to show fans and the team what I was capable of.”

The derby’s final chapter will be remembered for the postponement in an unrelenting downpour and a waterlogged pitch where long passes died and players had trouble staying upright.

But there are plenty of more colorful memories between Cincinnati and Louisville. Here are a few:

July 23, 2016: FC Cincinnati 2, Louisville 0
On a scorching afternoon at Nippert Stadium, FCC ended Louisville’s 17-game unbeaten streak and hoisted the first Dirty River Derby cup behind goals from Andrew Wiedeman and Sean Okoli. Afterward, Louisville coach James O’Connor directed some choice words toward FCC, claiming one of his players suffered turf burns on his feet during the match.

April 22, 2017: FC Cincinnati 1, Louisville 1
This match will be forever known as “Bitegate.” At Nippert, Djiby Fall was sent off with a straight red after a studs-up tackle on Louisville midfielder Niall McCabe in the 87th minute. O’Connor claimed after the match that Djiby bit McCabe’s face in the commotion following. Louisville submitted photos of the alleged bite to USL officials, and the league sided with Louisville, suspending Djiby for five additional matches for “major game misconduct.”

Aug. 12, 2017: Louisville 5, FC Cincinnati 0
On FCC’s second birthday, the club conceded a franchise-record five goals and surrendered the Dirty River Derby cup won the previous season. Fans, though, will remember this match more for what happened in the Slugger Field stands than on the pitch. Stadium officials ejected a group of FCC traveling supporters in the 80th minute. This came after fans threw streamers on the field that officials claimed interfered with play.

There hasn’t been much controversy around the two clubs this year. Instead, the storyline is Louisville beating FCC twice at Nippert by a combined 3-0. FC Cincinnati’s last loss came at the hands of Louisville all the way back on May 26, before the MLS announcement.

Hearing the news of his former club earning an MLS expansion bid, Spencer “was nothing but excited.” He says he still has a good relationship with the FCC front office and is still close with the club’s three remaining original players — Bone, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Kenney Walker.

“Having been a player, I knew how much work everyone was putting in to achieve the goal of becoming an MLS side — Jeff Berding being the main person focused on that,” Spencer said. “I know how much work he’s done, and I know how much work the entire front office, the ownership group and all the players and coaches have put in to achieve that goal. To do it in such a short amount of time is remarkable. I was nothing but excited, but I’m even more excited from the future standpoint to have a professional MLS team in Cincinnati that everybody can go watch and enjoy.”

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