Who: NJ/NY Gotham FC (5-2-5) host Racing Louisville (4-6-2)
When: Sunday, August 15, at 5 PM ET
This Sunday, Racing Louisville will face off against NJ/NY Gotham for the first time since the Challenge Cup. Last time, the teams settled for a 0-0 draw before Gotham went on to become runners-up in the tournament.
Racing is coming off a solid 3-1 win at home against Kansas City last Sunday that saw Nadia Nadim and Cheyna Matthews score their first goals in lavender. Savannah McCaskill also put in a stellar showing with two assists. This was the team’s first win since June and brings them only five points below the sixth-place playoff cutoff. Understandably, the team is feeling pretty good at the moment.
“The energy’s been fantastic,” said coach Christy Holly at Friday’s practice. “And now we’ll see a bit of rotation with regards to the starting lineup as we try and make our way through a chaotic August.”
Holly is right to call August chaotic. Including Sunday’s match, Racing will have four fixtures in just ten days. After playing Gotham, Racing will come back home to play the Chicago Red Stars on Wednesday, August 18. This match will also count as part of the Women’s Cup semifinals. Depending on the results of that game, Racing will then play Bayern Munich or Paris-Saint Germain in the Women’s Cup championship or third-place match on Saturday, August 21. Then, on August 25, they head west for a rematch with Kansas City.
While the schedule is compact, Racing had its best results the last time they were on a packed schedule winning two out of three matches during a seven-day stint in June. Maybe a high-intensity, high rotation schedule is what Racing needs to keep their momentum going.
Despite earning only one point in July, Holly has felt the last four games have shown some marked improvement. Racing has held possession, gotten off more shots, and generally looked more cohesive on the field. The recent addition of consummate goal scorer Nadim has certainly helped, too.
“We’ve got a little bit of progress here,” said Holly. “Let’s keep adding to it and not take two steps back.”
Get to Know Gotham
Although Gotham only earned a draw against Racing in the Challenge Cup, they should not be underestimated. Gotham’s 5-2-5 record puts them in third place in the league prior to the start of this weekend’s matches.
The former Sky Blue FC has been playing some of the best football in franchise history recently. Their loss to the North Carolina Courage last week ended an eight-game unbeaten streak – the longest ever for the club. While they only have one more win than Racing, they have also only lost two games.
Gotham’s biggest weakness is that they don’t score that many goals. They’re eighth in the league in goals scored this season with 13, averaging just above one goal per game. However, signs point to them heating up offensively. Six of their 13 goals were scored in their last four matches. So if teams give them an opportunity, they are more than capable of capitalizing.
While they might not score much, they certainly don’t give up much either. Gotham is second in the league in goals allowed having consistently limited top teams like North Carolina and Portland to single goals or even shutting them out. Conversely, North Carolina and Portland have hammered Racing with 0-5 and 0-4 scorelines.
While it’s unknown whether starters Carli Lloyd or Kailen Sheridan will be back from the Olympics for this match, Gotham remains formidable without them. World Cup winner Allie Long currently leads the league in passing accuracy and percentage of progressive passes. Long, Caprice Dydasko, and Estelle Johnson are in the top ten for total interceptions. (Side note: Racing’s Freya Olofsson is fourth in the league in interceptions.) Dydasko is also tied for the league in assists with three.
Keys to the Game
If Racing is going to get points in this match, they’ll need to be solid in their positioning to avoid the same mistakes that cost them against the Reign and the Spirit. Errant passes are sure to be pounced on by players like Long and Dydasko. Gotham also leads the league in possession, so once the ball is turned over, it’ll be hard to get it back.
It goes without saying that scoring goals wins games. That’s soccer 101. However, against a team like Gotham that doesn’t score too many, putting one away first and early may be key. In matches where Racing has scored first, they remain undefeated. So it’s possible Racing will burst out of the gate as aggressively as possible in order to score before Gotham can settle into the match. But, as mentioned above, they’ll need to remain on their toes so they don’t get burned in the counter as they have in the past.
It’ll be hard to break through Gotham’s rock-solid midfield and defenders, but if anyone is up to the task, it’s likely Ebony Salmon and Nadia Nadim. Neither were on Racing’s roster the last time they met Gotham, so their novelty might give Racing a bit of an edge. If Racing can string together some solid give-and-go’s like the ones that led to Salmon’s goals against Orlando and Kansas City, they might just be able to get some points on the board.
Luckily for Racing, Midfielder Savannah McCaskill has noticed distinct improvements in the team’s chemistry and their ability to work as a unit on the field. They’re starting to gel and play more freely than they have before.
“Our team is evolving and having more chemistry and we feel like we’re free going forward,” said McCaskill. “I think that’s what’s going to make us really dangerous.”
Regardless of how they’re feeling, Gotham will be an incredibly tough opponent. The fact that Racing is going into the game with good energy off a positive result puts them in the best place they could be. And while everyone wants a win, the most important thing for Racing is, as always, that they continue to grow. It’s frustrating, but still important to remember that growth doesn’t always come with three points. So no matter the outcome, if Racing is able to maintain their momentum, stay competitive, and leave it all out on this pitch against a top-three team in the league, then they’ll be in good shape to take on the rest of their opponents in their upcoming marathon during the next week and a half.