Racing Louisville ended their season on a high point on Sunday when they drew NJ/NY Gotham FC 1-1 at Red Bull Arena. This match was the final game for Racing in their inaugural season allowing the team to go out on a high note with a three-game unbeaten streak.
This game also marked the third consecutive match that Racing came back from behind to earn points. Previously, Racing rallied to beat Orlando 3-1 and came back to draw Gotham 1-1. These rallies marked a turning point for the young team. They’d never come from behind to win or draw prior to the Orlando Pride match. And, suddenly, they do it three times in a row.
After the match against Orlando, interim coach Mario Sanchez said he felt something clicked in the team. Everything he had been seeing during practice just suddenly came together on the pitch. Clearly, something has clicked for Racing because they have only ever gone undefeated across three games once before. That streak in August, which was also comprised of one win and two draws, came during the dog days of summer, however, when some opponents’ international players were still resting from the Olympics. This current streak, on the other hand, comes at the climax of the season when both Gotham and the Pride were gunning for a playoff berth.
There’s been a sense of confidence and aggressiveness in the team recently. They’re finally starting to play like a cohesive team that believes they belong in the league. The team ends their season with a momentum they’d been lacking. “This burst of power at the end of the season is a sign of the team’s resilience,” said attacker Cece Kizer who earned Racing’s lone goal off a penalty in the 69′.
“I think it’s big for us to gain this momentum going into next year,” said Kizer. “We’re a young team and gained a lot of experience this year and I think it’s good to know that we can come back from having conceded early. And I just think it boosts our confidence and motivates us through the off-season to get us ready to go next year.”
As for the source of this confidence, Kizer said it stems in part from the coaching change that took place in early September. Not only did the change prompt players to fight harder for recognition, but it also came with a new, more aggressive style of play. Although it took some time for the team to adapt to the faster pace, they seem to be relishing it now that they’ve adjusted.
“I think in the locker room a lot of us are just motivated to go out and prove ourselves,” said Kizer post-match. “With the coaching change and everything was up in the air, I think people were just motivated to come out and show the best in training sessions and everything.
“The speed of play and everything has changed thanks to Mario and I think we’ve changed our style a little bit and had a chip on our shoulder. And like we’ve said previously, these past couple games were playoff games to us and I think, again, we just want to come out and prove a point to every team and make a statement at the end of the season to motivate us and get us ready for next year.”
Despite the progress shown in these recent matches and the happiness that comes with getting results, the fact it took until the end of the season to pass this hurdle comes with some frustration for the players.
“It’s almost a bit frustrating,” said defender Gemma Bonner after the match. “Obviously it’s not ideal for us and what we’ve planned on doing — going down early in games — but I think it shows the character of the team. We’re showing in glimpses what we’re capable of. It’s just unfortunate it’s too late that we’re starting to pick up the points.”
Still, Bonner agrees with Kizer that it’s still a sign of a good foundation.
“It’s definitely something to build on — the first year together — and I definitely think there’s lots of positives to take from the latter part of the season. We’ll look to come back stronger next year.”
By the Numbers
In all honestly, Racing was lucky to get a point back from this match. They played well and, in particular, played aggressively from the beginning. Still, they only got their goal from a lucky call of a handball in the box. The ball seemed to bounce off Gotham player Allie Long’s leg before hitting her arm, but with her arms outstretched as far as they were, it’s no surprise a handball was called.
After the blitz of penalty kicks during the Women’s Cup earlier this year, it might be hard to remember that Racing never took a penalty kick all regular season until Cece Kizer converted one this match. Another milestone for Racing checked off for their inaugural season.
Gotham had far more shots with 14 compared to Racing’s 5. However, Racing’s had the more dangerous shots as they had 3 on target compared to Gotham’s 2.
Once again, Racing’s passing accuracy was below what should be acceptable at 63%. But, even this late in the season, the players are still learning each other’s preferences and movements. They’ve passed the confidence hurdle in order to come back from behind. Now they need to start clicking with their passing. Once they do that, they’ll have one of the last major pieces they need to be consistently successful.
Racing did well defensively this match with the higher number of successful tackles and duels won. Arguably, these high numbers stem from the fact Racing had far less possession (only 37%). Still, Racing has had plenty of games where Racing had low possession and fewer tackles/duels won than their opponents. This is especially good considering Emily Fox had to leave the match only about 15 minutes in with a head injury. This could have been a serious loss for Racing, but Nealy Martin and Erin Simon both did a great job of holding down the side in her absence.
— Arielle Dror (@arielle_dror) November 1, 2021
If Thursday was an emotional hometown farewell to the team, this match feels very much like an exciting upswing. The tears are in the past – although they are sure to resurface when the inevitable trades and waivers happen – and it feels like the future is boundless.
As Kizer said, there is momentum with this team. It’s clear there’s a solid foundation of players to build on. And a sense that we’ve made it through some of the worst growing pains and awkward adolescence to reach the beginnings of maturity. Of course, this will continue to be a hard league. Every game will be a challenge. Every match will need to be hard-fought. There will be inevitable dry spells and hard times to come. Even so, everyone now knows from experience that these times will be temporary.
Racing finally believes it can win games. Even games against opponents with veteran-filled rosters. Even when they go down first. And just as importantly, they’ve shown everyone else that they can do it, too.
All in all, this was a phenomenal first year, in my opinion. Of course, ninth place isn’t even close to ideal. And of course, the players are disappointed they didn’t make the playoffs. But expansion side success is measured in progress, not results. This team had had immense signs of progress throughout the year. They’ve earned almost a quarter of their total points in the final three games alone (5 of 21). If that’s not ending on a high note, I don’t know what is.
It still hasn’t sunk in yet that the season is finally over. That this isn’t just a couple of weeks’ break before the next games start. Luckily for us, there is a lot to look forward to in the off-season. We have a new coach to look forward to meeting. The NWSL Championship will take place in our own Lynn Family Stadium on November 20th. We have an expansion draft and a college draft ahead. And we may finally have the chance to meet a few of last year’s draftees like Parker Goins and Kristen Davis who chose to play their extra year of NCAA eligibility.
On a smaller scale, my friend Michael Shaw from Fleur de Lis FC and I will be releasing interviews with Racing’s international players throughout the off-season. First is Emily Fox who is hot off her standout performance against South Korea with the United States Women’s National Team. Fox’s interview should be coming out later this week so keep your eyes peeled. All player profiles will be posted right here on the Beautiful Game Network.
If you’re looking for even more Racing coverage in the off-season, check out this helpful list of content creators and message boards curated by Racing Louisville linked here.
A heartfelt thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read these articles over the course of this year. It’s been a joy writing them and I look forward to running with all of you next season!