Build and Get Better: Racing Louisville Tops Kansas City NWSL 3-1

A Fresh Start

After a tough July, Racing is getting August off to a great start with a 3-1 win over Kansas City NWSL on Sunday afternoon. This marked the club’s first win since June 26th.

After an excellent team build-up, Ebony Salmon opened the scoring in the 43′ off a cross from Savannah McCaskill. Kansas City answered late in stoppage time to send the teams off with a tie at the half. Racing would remain undaunted in the second half, however. In the 55′ Nadia Nadim headed in another perfectly timed cross from McCaskill, putting Louisville on top once again. In the 86′, Cheyna Matthews stole the ball at the top of the box, juked the opposing keeper, and walked the ball into the goal to put the game away for good.

“I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is going into the second half, there’s an opportunity for us to feel sorry for ourselves and fold,” said head coach Christy Holly after the match. “We just lost Gemma (Bonner) with stitches, we conceded a goal with the last kick of the first half, and for them to take it on board and respond the way they did is a testament to every single one in that locker room.”

In their last two matches, Racing has arguably controlled the tempo, held possession, and had plenty of good looks on goal. The only issue was actually scoring. These goals for Nadim and Matthews were their first in lavender. If they continue to produce along with Salmon and McCaskill, this could mean the final piece Racing has been searching for might be falling into place.

By The Numbers

A win is always pleasing, but Coach Holly contends that this wasn’t the team’s best performance, although their improved execution in the final third allowed them to earn this win. Racing’s stats demonstrate this to some extent.

Racing’s number of shots and shots on goal stayed fairly stable this match. Shots were down to 12 from 17 in the last two matches. And there were three shots target which falls right in the middle of their previous five and two against Washington and Seattle.

This is the fourth consecutive match where Racing has held the majority of possession. On Sunday, they held just over 53%. That’s slightly higher than their 50% possession over the Reign and lower than their 56% possession over the Spirit.

Passing accuracy stayed just around 70%, which isn’t great. There were great moments of connection during the match, like the give-and-go that led up to Salmon’s goal. However, there are still far too many giveaways or clearances that go right to the feet of an opponent. Against weaker teams like Kansas City, Racing doesn’t get burned. But as the matches against the Reign and the Spirit have shown, these slip-ups are deadly against a higher quality foe.

The only real drop this week is that Racing’s ever-reliable captain, Michelle Betos, was forced to make eight saves in goal. That’s the highest number she’s had to make since Racing lost to Portland back in early June. Unsurprisingly, Betos is leading the league in saves by a mile. This game brings her to 66 in only 12 games. The next closest is Casey Murphy from the North Carolina Courage with 46 in the same number of games. While it’s great that Betos has been such a bulwark for Racing, it would be nice to not make this increasing number of saves a trend.

Also, kudos to Betos for playing with two black eyes and what seemed to be a contusion on her forehead. According to club representatives, this was the result of an accident during an earlier practice. If you had any doubt about Racing leaving it all out on the pitch, let this be a reminder of how hard they go – even in practice.

Racing Louisville's Cheyna Matthews and Cece Kizer celebrate Matthew's goal. Matthews fist pumps while Kizer runs towards her with arms spread.
Racing Louisville’s Cheyna Matthews and Cece Kizer celebrate Matthew’s goal / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

Final Thoughts

Although Racing remains in ninth place, this win keeps them only five points out of playoff position. With the season only halfway through and 12 matches left, a playoff berth is still potentially on the table. Furthermore, the record for most points earned by an expansion team in their first year is only 19. This record was set by Orlando back in 2016. At 14 points with half a season left, Racing has a very good chance of surpassing this record. While every fan wants Racing to win every game, it’s helpful to keep a perspective of how hard it is for new teams to enter this league and also how close the standings actually are.

Racing fans should be exceptionally happy that Nadia Nadim and Cheyna Matthews got their first goals in lavender. Having more dangerous attacking options will help take the brunt off of Salmon who has been consistently overloaded by defenders and pushed around the moment she gets near the ball. Matthews, in particular, displayed some incredible head’s up play by not just picking the best moment to steal the ball but to stay with it and outmaneuver the goalkeeper, too. She’s been consistently dangerous every time she’s been on the pitch, but this goal showed just how much potential she has. With a tough, packed month of games this month, it’s good to know Racing has another starter-caliber player ready to jump into the attack at any moment.

After the match, Cheyna said she went into the game wanting to make an impact. She credits her teammates with helping provide the right energy and support she needed coming off the bench.

“I had the encouragement from all my teammates. So that was the biggest part for me, hearing that they were excited for me to come in and help out.” said Matthews.

Since joining the team a few weeks ago, Nadia Nadim has been impressed by her teammates and the hard work they’re willing to put in to improve.

“One thing that has stood out to me so far is the heart and the desire to work and to improve, which I appreciate,” said Nadim after the match. “I don’t want to be a part of a team that’s filled with prima donnas and ones that expect world championships before the game is even played. I want to be on a team where you grind, you build and you get better. I love to be in this kind of environment because that’s how my mindset is. It’s a new team, it’s going to take time to be where we want to be and I think we’re on our way slowly.”

With this win, Racing has shown that they can weather a tough spell and keep their fighting mentality and dedication to improvement. After earning only one point in July, they’ve never taken their foot off the gas or stopped fighting until the last minute. In fact, they’ve improved statistically in several key areas. Now they’re hopefully going to start to reap the benefits of this hard work. And if August proves to be another tough month, there can be little doubt that they’ll come out on the far end even stronger than they were before.

Bekki Morgan

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