Story by Remy Sisk | Photography by Clay Cook
It’s hard to miss if you’re downtown on a Louisville City Football Club game day. Swaths of purple and gold permeate the blocks surrounding Louisville Slugger Field, and devoted fans of all ages decked out in scarves, headwear, body paint and, of course, jerseys crowd the streets in emphatic illustrations of support of Louisville’s professional soccer team. And though the excitement of the game and the skill of the players are without a doubt spectacular aspects of Louisville City FC, these players – and company as a whole – sincerely care about and engage with the local community on an unprecedented level. All players are required contractually to make community appearances; however, every single one of them regularly exceeds the minimum requirement due to an authentic passion for Louisville and its myriad nonprofits. The team has worked in the past with Engelhard Elementary, the Boys & Girls Club and several other worthy organizations and demonstrated a true commitment to giving back. In fact, in 2016, the team totaled more than 2,000 hours in the community.
Four of the most recognizable players from the team – Paolo DelPiccolo, Ilija Ilic, Tarek Morad and Greg Ranjitsingh – recently stopped by The Voice-Tribune for an unforgettable photo shoot. But while they were here, we caught up with them about what role they believe they’ve played in the bettering of our community and why, despite the fact that they have come from all over the world, Louisville already holds such a special place in their hearts.
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Saturday, July 1, 7:30 p.m.
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Paolo DelPiccolo (No. 36)
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
What are you proud to bring to the team?: I think I bring good leadership, defensive work and passing to the team. I like to think of myself as the guy that carries the piano and I let the forwards play the keys.
Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: I think people are catching on to how much fun the games are to attend. Soccer fans around the world are by far the most passionate sports fans. The Louisville fans are no different, and they make the games so exciting and fun.
What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: I love all the restaurants here.
What’s your favorite local restaurant?: Hammerheads for sure.
Favorite bourbon?: I really haven’t tried too many – probably Woodford Reserve. But I’m not hardcore Kentucky yet. I take my bourbon with Coke or some water.
Favorite thing to do off the field?: I like to skateboard a lot. But with so much downtime I have picked up quite a few hobbies. Coaching, painting, video games, chasing girls around (haha) – really anything.
Why is it important to you to stay involved in the community?: I think when I look at how lucky I am to live this lifestyle where I play soccer for a living, it’s important to recognize that it is only possible because of the support from the community, so it is important to me to give back to them for supporting me – it’s also important to give back to people who aren’t as lucky as I am.
What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: The Jimmy V Foundation is my favorite. A fan of ours got me involved last year with a bocce tournament, and the work they do is awesome.
What’s your favorite memory from your community appearances?: Last year, our team won the Jimmy V bocce tournament, and that was really fun.
How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: I think first and foremost, we give the community something to cheer for. At the home games, it’s really incredible to see everyone coming out and having such a great time together supporting us, but I also think we do a good job of getting out into the community outside of soccer and bonding with our fans, charities and really anyone who we can positively impact.
Ilija Ilic (No. 14)
Hometown: Belgrade, Serbia
What are you proud to bring to the team?: Aside from soccer skills, I like to think I am a good teammate and very positive person.
Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: I’ve never seen a team that has better outreach to the community than Louisville City FC. The connection between players and fans is real, and people can sense that. I think that is why we have more and more people in the stands every year.
What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: I really like the city because it reminds me of my hometown. Just like Louisville, Belgrade has a beautiful river – actually two rivers – and several bridges that connect old and new parts of the city. I used to go to the parks near the river, and that is something that I really enjoy doing in Louisville.
What’s your favorite restaurant?: My favorite restaurant is Sapporo. I really like sushi, and you can see me there at least once a week.
What’s your favorite bourbon?: I know this will make Kentuckians mad, but I’d rather have a Falls City beer.
Favorite thing to do off the field?: I really enjoy visiting local parks. Louisville has some of the nicest parks I’ve seen, and I’m trying to explore them all.
Why is it important to stay involved in the community?: The idea of getting the team involved as much as possible in the community was essential for our team culture. We are trying to bring the joy to the community not only on the field, but also throughout different appearances and events. Seeing the smiles on kids’ faces when they meet players outside of Slugger Field and then getting to talk to them or kick a ball with them is just remarkable.
What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: We auctioned our game-worn jerseys last season to benefit Blessings in a Backpack at Engelhard Elementary. No kids in our community should go hungry, and I hope that we helped.
What’s your favorite memory of your community appearances?: One of the unforgettable memories was when we visited a local orphanage. We met the kids that had some of the saddest stories and they went through more than anyone could imagine, yet they were able to laugh and play with us. That feeling of bringing joy to them was priceless.
How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: I would like to think that we are helping to get more kids involved in playing sports. When I was a kid, sports were the only fun we had. I feel nowadays kids have so many different options and not enough of them play sports. This is my third season with the team, and I’m happy to see more and more kids at our games every year. That’s something that this team is striving for, and we should all be proud of it.
Tarek Morad (No. 6)
Hometown: Chino Hills, California
What are you proud to bring to the team?: I’m an intelligent defender that plays with passion and hard work.
Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: The product that we’ve put out on the field since I’ve been here is really exciting and entertaining as is the overall atmosphere that our supporter groups help provide during games.
What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: I’ve enjoyed trying all different kinds of great restaurants the city has to offer.
What’s your favorite local restaurant?: El Taco Luchador.
Favorite thing to do off the field?: If I’m being honest, sleeping and eating are my favorite things to do off the field. But I also enjoy just listening to music and watching some good movies and TV shows.
Why is it important to you to stay involved in the community?: It’s important to give back to the community that supports you, so getting involved in events around the city plays a big part in the team’s culture and success.
What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: I’m currently working with a campaign called Playing for Pride, which raises money for the Human Rights Campaign to bring awareness for LGBTQ rights and equality through soccer.
What’s your favorite memory from your community appearances?: Visiting Norton Children’s Hospital last year and meeting so many amazing kids fighting cancer and being able to put a smile on their faces was really an incredibly fulfilling experience.
How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: I believe the team has made a very positive impact on the community by bringing a pro sports team for the city to rally behind. The team provides a new and unique experience that is different from the other more popular sports in this region.
Greg Ranjitsingh (No. 1)
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
What are you proud to bring to the team?: Mario Kart and decent banter.
Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: Louisville has had a great following for soccer even before the team arrived back in 2015. Ever since the inaugural season, the club has developed a great culture on the pitch and within the community that people really enjoy and respect.
What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: Game days. The support this city gives us is incredible – no greater feeling
What’s your favorite local restaurant?: El Barrio. I encourage everyone in the city to go there at least twice a week.
Favorite bourbon?: This is my third year in Louisville and I still haven’t tried bourbon.
Favorite thing to do off the field?: Eat at local restaurants.
Why is it important to you to stay involved in the community?: It’s always great knowing that you can be involved in something that benefits the community, especially being part of Louisville City. A lot of people in the community look up to us, and I feel it’s our duty to give back to this city for the support they have given us.
What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: The Boys & Girls Club.
What’s your favorite memory from your community appearances?: Working with the Boys & Girls Club – having them at the training grounds one afternoon and seeing all of them enjoy the beautiful game at a clinic.
How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: With such a big following and passionate fans, people have bought into the culture that Louisville City has created and it’s our duty to spread that sense of enjoyment not only on game day at Slugger Field but also within the community whenever we can.