Baby Steps: Racing Louisville v Portland Thorns Recap – June 6, 2021

Racing Louisville fell 0-3 to the Portland Thorns at Providence Park on Saturday. While it’s not the outcome Racing wanted, there were some signs of progress compared to last week’s 0-5 loss to the North Carolina Courage. Namely, the team kept their composure throughout the entire game and kept fighting until the final whistle, even after their chances of winning became essentially non-existent.

This level of fight is especially impressive considering the two-day ordeal Racing underwent just trying to get to Portland. Add in playing in front of the largest, loudest opposing crowd they’d ever faced, in a  late-night match, against one of the top clubs in the world, and the outcome was fairly inevitable. And the truth is, it could very easily have been much worse.

Many of the persistent issues that plague Racing remain. But growing as a team is a process that takes time. For expansion teams, it’s all about taking baby steps before being able to run with the big kids. Racing is going to stumble and sometimes they’ll hit the ground hard, but if they keep the level of grit and determination they’ve shown thus far, the positive results will eventually come. Racing Coach Christy Holly insists that while the team is aware of the limitations that come with being a new team, they trust the process and will keep working towards the results they want.

“We know that we’re sitting in the middle of Portland with a brand-new team against a team full of World Cup winners,” said Racing Coach Christy Holly post-game. “We know it’s not going to be easy. We just want to make sure we’re chipping away at everything we’re doing and trying to get better every week.”

Captain Michelle Betos agrees.

“We’ve said from the beginning we will never make an excuse, but there’s going to be growing pains,” she said. “My message is just, like, let’s move, let’s grow, let’s do better.”

As far as absorbing such hard losses, Betos makes it clear that these experiences are first and foremost learning opportunities. How the team responds to them is what matters.

“If we don’t learn from them, then they’re a waste and they’re truly heartbreaking. Right now, this early in the season, I just hope we take the lessons and that’s the messaging to everyone.”

Match Recap

Both teams made some significant changes to their lineups. For Racing, Emina Ekic earned her first regular season start over Katie McClure while Nealy Martin made the start over Brooke Hendrix, who suffered a minor injury prior to the game.

On Portland’s side, Coach Mark Parsons was missing star Canadian midfielder Christine Sinclair, who is out on international duty and Sophia Smith was out with a minor injury. Simone Charley and Morgan Weaver stepped into the starting lineup in their places.

First Half

As in the last game, the action started early with a goal for Portland in the 8th minute. The offensive onslaught would continue all half with Michelle Betos making six saves to keep the game 0-1 until the whistle.

Second Half

Once again, an early goal was scored by Portland. This time by Rocky Rodriguez in the 48th minute. This was followed up by a goal from Lindsey Horan in the 77th minute.

By The Numbers

In what is becoming a trend, Racing Louisville’s opponents continue to dominate in possession. Except for Racing’s first regular season game against Kansas City, where both teams essentially managed equal possession, the next three games have essentially been split 40/60.

 

Regular Season Match

Possession

Racing %

Opponent %

LOU v KC –

5/15/21

50.7%

49.3%

LOU v WAS –

5/21/21

40%

60%

NCC v LOU –

5/28/21

39.2%

60.8%

POR v LOU –

6/6/21

41.4%

58.6%

This is not a trend Racing should be happy with. Possession did go up a tiny bit against Portland, but not in a statistically significant way.

Another trend Racing Louisville can’t be pleased with is the continued high number of opponent’s shots compared to a dearth of answering shots from Racing. In the first four games, Racing has gotten off 31 shots while their opponents have managed 96 total shots against them. In the same period, Racing has only managed 5 shots on target in total while their opponents have managed 36. Those are some dire numbers, especially when the number of shots per game is trending downwards as time goes on.

 

Regular Season Match

Shots

Shots on Goal

Racing #

Opponent # Racing #

Opponent #

LOU v KC –

5/15/21

13 11 1

3

LOU v WAS –

5/21/21

8 29 3

10

NCC v LOU –

5/28/21

6 28 1

11

POR v LOU –

6/6/21

4 28 0

12

Totals

31 96 5

36

Average

7.75 24 1.25

9

 

Betos continues coming up big for Racing with nine saves against Portland. Defenders also managed an impressive 34 clearances. This shows some strength in the backline who came up big in preventing Portland from opening the floodgates against them.

Key Takeaways

Looking at these numbers, it’s hard to see bright spots, but they are there.

Racing Louisville stayed in this game much more than they did against North Carolina. After the goals started coming in last week, Racing lost all composure and got blown apart. Portland had a nearly identical number of shots and number of shots on goal as the Courage, but Racing managed more clearances and worked better as a unit swarming attackers and keeping them from getting clear shots. Racing also performed better one-on-one against Portland than against North Carolina. Racing only won 26 duels against the Courage but won 47 against Portland. This could be another sign of the team getting tougher mentally and fighting until the end.

The dismal offensive numbers for Racing compared to their opponents’ are linked hand-in-hand with possession. If Racing can’t keep the ball, they can’t take shots and they also can’t prevent the other team from taking them. Much of the problem comes down to turnovers in the midfield. With Gemma Bonner set to join the defense and Ebony Salmon finally ready to join the offense, Racing will hopefully be able to focus on shoring up the midfield. But, ultimately, this is a very young team still learning to play together. It’s obvious they aren’t reading each other’s movements or anticipating each other’s actions well which is affecting possession. This group has only played a total of 8 games together while many of the Thorns and Courage players have been teammates for 3 or more years. Chemistry will improve with time and that will also help possession and buildup.

On the whole, this was arguably the hardest double road trip any team could have in the league. The fact that they were able to get a better result in the more hostile environment of Providence Park stadium after getting demolished by the Courage shows a degree of resilience. As seen above, the Courage and the Thorns had very similar numbers, but the outcome was better for Racing in the second game because Racing played better.

Coming Up Next

The reinforcements arrive!

Gemma Bonner and Ebony Salmon are both stateside and will be ready to start Racing’s next match on June 20. Bonner is a veteran with a winning history who can help provide more direction and central strength to the backline. Salmon, on the other hand, is the striker Racing desperately needs. Her addition will allow CeCe Kizer to move back into her preferred position. By shoring up both the front and back lines, Racing can focus on working on the midfield which is where they’ve most often lost possession.

Additionally, defender Julia Ashley should be returning immediately after the break giving some additional depth to the backline. Taylor Otto is also working her way back, although her return date is a bit more uncertain. Unfortunately, Addisyn Merrick is still recovering from a back injury and there is no timetable for when she might be able to join the team. Holly called Merrick’s injury ‘delicate’ and said that the team is still seeking out additional opinions from medical professionals before determining when she can play.

These reinforcements will be especially important because Racing will have 3 games in only 6 days when they return. First, they take on Houston in Louisville, followed by a rematch with the Courage, also in Louisville. Then they’re on the road to Chicago to take on the Red Stars.

While Racing might get some positive results in these upcoming matches, there are certainly more hard lessons in their future. The success of an expansion team needs to be measured in signs of growth, not by the score sheet. As Betos said, losses are only heartbreaking if you fail to learn a lesson. In their first 8 games, Racing Louisville has demonstrated that they have the tenacity and resilience to take their lumps and come back fighting harder than before. They took a crushing defeat against Carolina and turned it into a less bruising defeat against Portland. Those are exactly the kind of baby steps expansion teams take as they work their way into the league.

And with a couple of weeks off to really focus on making progress and Bonner and Salmon finally ready to make their debuts, Racing Louisville may look quite different when we see them again!

Author

Bekki Morgan

Covering Racing Louisville and the NWSL. Find me on Twitter and Instagram: @sukiisacat.