A Fresh Start: Racing Louisville Draws OL Reign

Last week, Racing ended a congested streak of five games in 15 days that included winning their first trophy. Then, on Tuesday, it was announced that head coach Christy Holly had been fired for cause.

That’s a lot of drama for any team to manage – especially a team in their first year – but Racing came out the other side looking invigorated. On Saturday night, they tied the visiting OL Reign, who had been on a three-game winning streak. All in all, this was a team that seemed ready for a fresh start and looked eager to move on.

Racing started the match aggressively with an early shot from Emily Fox forcing Reign’s keeper to make a close save. In the 23′, Cece Kizer sent a good ball forward to connect with Nadia Nadim who fought past defenders to score. Despite a barrage of attacks from the Reign, Racing defended well and the results remained level until deep in the second half. In the 74′ a header from Bethany Balcer off a cross from Sophia Huerta brought the score level.

In the post-match huddle, captain Michelle Betos told her teammates she saw a fire in them that had recently gone missing.

“When’s the last time we’ve been this proud of everyone on the field? When’s the last time we felt everyone left it on the field like this – every single person?” she asked pointing to the assembled teammates and staff. “When’s the last time? It’s been a while.”

In his first few days as head coach, interim head coach Mario Sanchez has made a few changes from his predecessor. In particular, he returned to the high press favored by the club. He also put out a lineup that Racing hadn’t seen before. Most notably, Jorian Baucom got her second start of the season and Emily Fox was moved to right back. Baucom’s strong, direct style of play worked well and it’s a likely bet she’ll get some more starts as the season continues. Fox looked just as comfortable on the right as she did on the left and put in a strong showing against Rose Lavelle and Eugenie Le Sommer.

Sanchez said he was proud of how the team came out and played against one of the best teams in the league after the week they’ve had.

“It shows the character of this team,” said Sanchez after the match. “They came together and so that’s the most important thing.”

Players agree that the recent adversity has only made the team stronger. They’re focused on a singular goal and that goal is to play and win.

“Obviously it was a challenging week, I think there’s no hiding away from that,” said defender Gemma Bonner. “But I think the group’s really stuck together and stayed strong and I think every day in training this week was positive energy. And I think all we can control as players and all we’re here to do is play football and that’s ultimately what we want to do.”

In just a short time, Sanchez seems to have won the support of the players. Bonner had nothing but praise for the new coach, saying “Mario’s come on board and been brilliant for us, really pushing and getting us to believe in ourselves and show what we can do on the field.”

Jorian Baucom attempts to move possess the ball past Sofia HuertaJorian Baucom / Image courtesy ISI Photos

By The Numbers

Overall, Racing did pretty well with the high press. While they only had 11 shots to the Reign’s 27, many of the Reign’s shots weren’t particularly dangerous. As a result, Racing had four on goal compared to their opponent’s seven. So even if they had fewer in number, they made them count.

That being said, Racing still has some defensive issues to work on if opponents are earning this many shots. Several times defenders stood in place ball watching instead of clearing or controlling loose balls. If Reign had been more accurate, this would likely not have been as nice a result for Racing as it was – even if Michelle Betos did come up big with several good saves.

Speaking of Betos, she had six more saves this match. That brings her total for the season up to an astounding 89 saves. While this is a phenomenal stat for her, it’s not that great for the team and something that will definitely need to be addressed – potentially with personnel changes – for the next season.

For the first time in a while, Racing’s possession dropped quite precipitously. They only maintained 40% in the first half and then dropped to 38.6% in the second. These are some of their lowest numbers all year. Recently, Racing was getting higher possession numbers for a bit but not because they were necessarily playing better. Opponents read them too well and sat back waiting for Racing to make an errant pass to exploit. So it’s hard to take too much from possession at this time. Especially against such a strong team.

Focused Start, Lackadaisical Finish

Racing continues to have problems with starting out hot and sputtering out in the second half. While the team remained high energy throughout much of the game, they became increasingly disconnected over the second half. Once again, opponents were able to adjust in the second half, but Racing wasn’t able to adjust to the adjustments.

Bonner is proud of the way her teammates played for much of the game. Still, she says they need to find consistency in their play that lasts the whole match.

“I think as a player we started off so well pressing them high up the pitch and we won a lot of balls in the opposition half. Now we have to learn how to do that for 90 minutes and learn to manage how we do that in moments more consistently.”

Cece Kizer agrees, saying: “I think you can see on the field that we had a game plan and I think we were executing it in the beginning and then just kind of got a little lackadaisical.”

One-one draws are becoming something of a habit for Racing, says Kizer. And, most frustratingly, they’re always the result of Racing going ahead early and then giving up a late goal. This is the same pattern that’s happened with matches against Orlando, Gotham, and Chicago.

“Once we get one, we just need to keep that momentum going as a group and not get settled into the game.”

While Sanchez says Saturday’s results weren’t bad, it’s the lowest acceptable bar. His message to the team moving forward is that they’ve established a baseline. Now they need to raise that bar and continue to grow as players.

“What I know is that these players have more in them and now it’s up to all of us to learn and grow.”

Bekki Morgan

Covering Racing Louisville on the Beautiful Game Network and the central NWSL teams on She-Plays.com. Co-host of Butchertown Rundown: A Racing Louisville Podcast. Find me on Twitter @bekki_morgan and my pod @ButchertownR.