Championships, Callups, and Record Crowds: A Big News Week for Racing Louisville

The past few days have been filled with a lot of big news for Racing Louisville. And in spite of the tumult continuing to swirl around the NWSL, it’s all been positive!

First, Louisville will host the NWSL Championship Game after it was moved from Portland as part of the ongoing negotiations between the league and the player’s association. It will take place on November 20 at noon and will air live on CBS nationally. (Tickets available here) When discussing this move, club president Brad Estes also provided an update on the ongoing Racing coaching search and discussed his central role in the league player negotiations.

Additionally, defender Emily Fox was called up to the senior national team for their upcoming October matches. Fox is one of only four new players to join the bronze medal-winning team. If she gets minutes, these matches have the potential to be her fifth and sixth senior caps.

Fox wasn’t the only player to receive an international call-up. Ebony Salmon was also called up to England’s U-23 team for the October international break. Also, today it was announced that Vanessa Kara has been called up to the Dominican national team for two friendlies against Bolivia.

And, finally, Racing Louisville is preparing to play against the Orlando Pride at home on Saturday in front of what will likely be a record crowd. Ticket sales are on pace to break the 7,813 sold for the Women’s Cup final in August.

Let’s take look at these stories in more depth and see what Racing has in store as their inaugural season begins to come to a close.

World-Class Events: Racing Chosen as New Host for the NWSL Championship

On Thursday, it was announced that the NWSL Championship match would be moving from Portland to Louisville. According to club president Brad Estes, this change was brought about after the NWSL Player’s Association raised concerns about the 9 AM PT kick-off time and playing on turf.

For Estes, the chance to host this match is an incredible opportunity not just for Racing, but for the entire city of Louisville.

“We’re excited to show the world that Louisville is a world-class city and we hold world-class events,” said Estes.

As for why Louisville was chosen, he said that he believes the players who have visited Racing’s facilities like the stadium and the grass pitch.

“They know that we’ve built this soccer-specific stadium that’s pretty unique in terms of women’s soccer in our league. And so I think they’re really happy to be here.”

Estes says the team has received nothing but positive feedback from players about the stadium and facilities since Racing launched earlier this year.

“They see what we’ve built here at Lynn Family Sports Vision and Training Center,” said Estes as he gestured at the new training center behind him. “Everything’s equal. They see the way we do things where we don’t separate men and women in any regard. Everything is equal. And I think they appreciate that and they see how we treat our athletes here – the food they get to eat every day, the facilities they get to train in – and they really appreciate that.”

Racing defender Emily Fox agrees that players have been impressed by what Louisville has to offer. During the Women’s Cup in August, she said visitors from Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and the Chicago Red Stars were enthusiastic about what they experienced.

“I think they were amazed by the facilities that we have and by the stadium,” said Fox of the visiting clubs. “And so this is another opportunity to show that this club and everything we have is top class and is the new standard.ย And I also think, fanwise, having this is a great opportunity to show more support and encourage more women playing soccer. So I think it’s really exciting. And I think for teams that haven’t been here and fans that haven’t been here, I think they’ll be very impressed and very excited that this is our facility and our stadium.”

There already seems to be a great deal of interest surrounding the event. The tickets sold during the pre-sale on Thursday out-paced the sales of Women’s Cup tickets. The Women’s Cup finale currently holds the attendance record for a Racing home match.

The championship will air live nationally on CBS on November 20 at noon.ย 

A Humbling Experience: NWSL Player negotiations & the coaching search

During his recent discussions on the championship announcement, Estes also took some time to discuss the ongoing league negotiations with the NWSL Player’s Association and the search for Racing’s next coach.

After Thursday’s practice, Estes said, “I think what you’ve seen in the past few weeks is our Board of Directors come together and put down the swords of competition because we are competitors at the end of the day, but we also own the league and we see that things need to change. It’s been a humbling experience for me to see everybody come together and work hard.”

He said the board is meeting for two to three hours every day to resolve the many issues that have plagued the league. These include a myriad of various clubs’ leadership and coaching scandals and the resulting aftermath.

“We’re very committed to fixing what’s going on in the league and we’re excited to see how it plays out.”

In terms of what needs to change the most, Estes said providing a safe environment for all players was the heart of the issue.

“It’s a very basic thing and I think that sometimes – especially as men – we take that for granted. And so we need to go that extra step to think about what we need to do to provide safety for our players.”

Later, during an interview on Soccer City Radio on Louisville’s ESPN 680 (link directly to Estes’ interview here), Estes elaborated some more on how those negotiations between the player’s union and clubs were taking place. It ends up that Estes has some very close, personal insight into the process.

After Lisa Baird resigned, the league formed a committee of four individuals to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the NWSL Player’s Association. Estes is one of those four individuals who is working with player’s union director Meghann Burke and different players’ reps to work out a contract. This week included two full days of bargaining and next week will have a minimum of two more.

“I think we’re making good progress,” said Estes. “I think we step into that room and we start to ask questions and we get feedback and show that we want to work with the players. There’s no one on our Board of Directors that has any desire not to work with the players, but a lot of this is just communication.

I feel fortunate to be on this committee. We have a very good group of people. A good, diverse group of people that have different backgrounds on the soccer side and the business side and on the playing side as well. So I think that’s going to be a great process.”

When it comes to finding a new coach, Estes said that James O’Connor, Executive Vice President of Development, has spoken to “double-digit candidates already.” He insists the search will be exhaustive and that player feedback and involvement will be key in identifying and selecting candidates.

“When we were going through this the first time, we didn’t have the benefit of having a team in place. So we weren’t really able to bounce candidates off our current players because we didn’t have players.

“What we’re doing now is we’re talking with the players to see who they might enjoy as a coach, taking recommendations from them, and that’s been very informative, I know from James. And we just look forward to getting the right person that embodies our culture.”

Emily Fox runs in a pink pinnie during practice
Emily Fox practices with Racing / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

Honored & Excited: Fox gets called up

On Wednesday, it was announced that Emily Fox would be included on the roster for the U.S. senior national team’s October matches. She is just one of four new players added to the players who won bronze this summer in the Tokyo Olympics.

“I feel like the women’s national team has such a legacy,” said Fox, “and obviously they did extremely well in the Olympics so I feel very honored and excited to be part of the group – especially knowing that these are Carli’s last games.”

The two matches against South Korea will take place in Kansas City on October 21st (ESPN2) and in Minneapolis-St. Paul on October 26 (FS1). Per Fox’s comments, these matches are also the last matches legend Carli Lloyd will play for the national team, making them especially poignant.

Fox says that she feels like she’s developed a lot as a player in her rookie season. Playing in a professional league is a huge challenge compared to college, but she feels she’s getting better every game after going up against such great opponents.

While she thinks she’ll likely play as an outside back for the national team, she has gotten a kick out of playing in new positions in Louisville under interim coach Mario Sanchez.

“It’s been really fun being able to play multiple positions and different formations. But at the end of the day, I told Mario [Sanchez] and all the coaches I want to play wherever I can contribute. So wherever they need me I feel like I’m ready to go and see if I can do it.”

In terms of picking a favorite position, her choice is probably something of a surprise: “Honestly, the eight [central midfield] has been really fun. I’ve only played two games in it but being higher up the field and being able to kind of contribute more in offense and have more freedom in the attack, that’s been really fun. I’m really enjoying that.”

In addition to Fox, two other Racing players will be busy during the international break. Vanessa Kara has been called into the Dominican national team to play in two friendlies against Bolivia. And Ebony Salmon will be heading back overseas to join the England U-23s in two late October matches. Whether these fixtures will impact player availability for the final two Racing Louisville matches of the season remains unknown.

Racing versus the Pride: Saturday at 7pm

For the first time since Racing’s debut, the Orlando Pride are heading back to Louisville. This time, superstar Alex Morgan will be joining them after missing the debut match due to international duty.

Ticket sales are on track to exceed Racing’s current record of 7,813 seats sold for the Women’s Cup finale. There’s no doubt that Morgan and other Orlando superstars like Marta, Ashlyn Harris, and Ali Krieger are certainly a draw. However, it’s worth noting that Racing has maintained the second-highest attendance in the league behind the Portland Thorns. And, signs point to Racing’s fanbase holding steady with the vast majority of season ticket holders renewing for the 2022 season. That’s pretty impressive for a team that’s sat in ninth place most of the season.

And as Fox is just the latest player to sing the praises of the club when given the opportunity, it certainly seems like there’s something special starting to take root in Louisville.

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.