Racing Louisville will face off against a new NWSL team for the final time this season when they take on OL Reign in Tacoma on Saturday night.
The ladies in lavender hope to rebound from a disappointing 0-2 loss against the Washington Spirit at home this past Sunday. While the scoreline was frustrating, there are plenty of positives to take from their most recent match. For one, they held almost 60% possession against a very possession-oriented team. They also had their highest number of shots ever in a match (17) and tied their highest number of shots on target (5). These numbers are in stark contrast to earlier in the season when Racing struggled to hold more than 40% of possession or take more than couple shots each game. These improved stats are all part of the team’s growing consistency in play.
Coach Christy Holly is pleased with the progress he sees in the players, noting that improvement is the team’s ultimate goal this season. In the match against Washington, he saw plenty of good play that the team can be proud of. But fleeting moments of inexperience and inattention ultimately cost the team the win.
“We have to realize when we have a team on the ropes and kill off the game,” Holly said after practice on Wednesday. “We didn’t and when we look at the opportunities we gave them, we’re exceptionally disappointed with ourselves because it was two really naive mistakes that we made.
“That’s where we are: We’re growing. We know everything needs to fall in place for us to have that fantastic game, but the performance is becoming a little more consistent which is what we like and we just want to tally up some points.”
Know Your Foe
OL Reign’s season had been a mixed bag, thus far.
They’ve made some incredible short-term signings, thanks to their relationship with sister club Olympique Lyonnais Féminin. (The OL in their name stands for Olympique Lyonnais.) Dzsenifer Marozsán, Sarah Bouhaddi, and Eugénie Le Sommer are international superstars who almost any team would covet. They also have young talented attackers like Tziarra King and Bethany Balcer on their roster, who pose constant scoring threats. So even with Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle off in Tokyo for the Olympics, they still have plenty of firepower left.
Despite this, the Reign just haven’t been able to get much momentum going this season. Their play has been inconsistent and sloppy at times. This may be due, in part, to the major disruption caused by head coach Farid Benstiti abruptly resigning earlier this month mere hours before a match. The Reign’s performance was lackluster under Benstiti and was only 2-4-1 this season at the time of his resignation.
Under interim coach Sam Laity, they’ve won two, lost two for a 4-6-1 record which may point to a shift in momentum. With the recent announcement that beloved former coach Laura Harvey will be returning to lead the Reign after her stint with the United States Women’s National Team in Japan, the Reign may be able to turn their season around and return to their normal status as perpetual playoff contenders.
Keys to the Game
Despite the fact the future may be looking brighter for OL Reign, they are still currently in a fairly vulnerable position. They’re currently only barely holding onto eighth place with 13 points compared to ninth place Racing Louisville’s 11 points. They’ve also played one more game than Racing, so they’ve had extra time to get further ahead in the standings. And yet they remain only two points ahead.
As a result, this is a very important match for Racing to win or tie. A win would propel Racing back into eighth place and one step closer to a coveted playoff spot. A draw would at least keep the Reign in reach. A loss, however, will start building up a gap between eighth and ninth that may become insurmountable if it grows too large. Racing’s next match is Kansas City who are currently winless. That match will be one of Racing’s best chances to get three points. If they can get 4 or 6 points over two weeks, Racing will be in a much better striking position for a playoff spot.
In order to earn these points, Racing has to obviously score some points, but almost more importantly, they need to not let any more be conceded. While Michelle Betos currently leads the league in clean sheets, Racing still has a -8 goal differential. That’s only two better than last place Kansas City who have yet to win a game. The eighth place Reign only have a differential of -3. The bottom one or two playoff berths are looking like they’re going to be close calls. With goal differential as a tie-breaker, Racing is going to have to start chipping away at that deficit.
With Nadia Nadim finally joining the team, Racing’s roster is finally complete and their attacking options are stronger than ever. In her first 35 or so minutes on the pitch last week, Nadim proved to be a danger. She got off four shots which equaled almost a quarter of all shots taken in the full 90 minutes. If she starts, hopefully, she can pull some pressure off of Ebony Salmon who was well-contained and isolated by the Spirit last week. Players struggled to get the ball to Salmon and Salmon was unable to build up any real momentum all match. With both Salmon and Nadim splitting defenders’ focus, Racing may have more success in the attack. Especially if players like Cece Kizer and Lauren Milliet are able to continue to be consistent offensive threats, also.
As mentioned earlier, Racing had more shots last week than they had in any previous games. Earlier in the season, they struggled to get any shots off at all, so this is a great development. However, now that they’ve begun to take care of quantity, they need to start focusing on quality. So often crosses bound off into empty spaces or onto defenders’ feet because there’s no Racing player there to collect them. Or shots are off-target or directly at the goalkeeper. Cleaning up these touches in the final third is one of the last major things Racing needs to build consistency in. Possession is consistently getting better. Passing accuracy has been improving. The number of shots and shots on goal are growing or at least staying steady. Now the finishing needs to become more clinical.
All in all, Racing has a decent shot at getting points in Tacoma on Saturday. Although they may be frustrated by their last match, Coach Holly says the team isn’t daunted by their loss and remains positive.
“I said to the girls this morning, you’re allowed to be frustrated and disappointed and annoyed, but you can’t be lacking confidence after what they did on Sunday.”
Holly says the team showed an ability to adjust and execute new tactics last week which speaks to their growth as a team.
“I think we’re in a good place. Yeah, we want to win everything, but we’re seeking progress now and that was a big step for us.”
If all goes well for Racing on Saturday, hopefully, their next big step can be bringing home some points from Tacoma.
Who: OL Reign (4-6-1) hosts Racing Louisville (3-5-2)
When: Saturday, July 31 at 10 PM ET
Where: Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, WA / Live on Twitch / At Hogfathers’s in Butchertown for the official watch party!