Empty-Handed: Racing Louisville draws the Houston Dash in first road match

Racing Louisville came away empty-handed on Saturday night in a nil-nil draw with the Houston Dash. Despite being on the front foot for most of the match, Houston keeper Jane Campbell was able to weather Racing’s storm and keep them off the scoreboard.

Captain Jaelin Howell admitted the team was frustrated not to come away with a win after outplaying Houston for much of the match. They had more than enough opportunities to grab three points, but couldn’t find the back of the net.

Katie Lund / Image courtesy Jordan Prather-NWSL

By the Numbers

Racing spent the entire night peppering Campbell with shots — particularly in the first half. In the first 45 minutes alone, they had 14 shots with eight on target. That nearly doubles the eight shots and four on target they had in the full match against Orlando. By the end of the night, they had 19 shots with 10 on target and Campbell was forced to make a career-high 9 saves. Racing also had an xG of just over 2.

The most prodigious producer was rookie Reilyn Turner who was unstoppable in the first half. She not only set a new club record for shots on goal in a single game (6) and matched Thembi Kgatlana’s club-high eight shot attempts, but she did it in only the first half of her second professional game ever. Kayla Fischer also had a strong 90 minutes with three shots and two on-goal — including one that was saved late off the line by a Houston defender’s backheel in the most unbelievable fashion.

If Racing sat back a bit too much against Orlando, they did not do so against Houston. Racing won 59% of their duels and 73% of their aerial duels. Fischer again stood out here by winning 14 of her 22 duels — more than any player on either team. She also won possession 10 times, more than any other Racing player. Taylor Flint also put in a good shift winning 12 of her 14 duels and all four of her aerial duels.

Where Racing stumbled a little bit was in possession. The match ended with them holding only 44% overall. They also only had 73% passing accuracy.

In other news, Louisville keeper Katie Lund reached 50 career starts against Houston and defender Abby Erceg moved to fourth on the list of all-time National Women’s Soccer League regular season minutes with 15,101.

Taking Your Chances

As Howell said, the biggest issue Racing had was not finishing their chances. One goal would have changed the entire trajectory of the match and while it’s still early, dropping these early points against teams that should be beatable might come back to haunt Racing later. And xG of 2 is still good and should have signified a solid win, but there’s still an obvious need for more clinical finishing. In some cases the shots were right at Campbell, at other times they were just off, and at other times they were well-defended, so while the volume was high the quality wasn’t always perfect.

Still, the fact that Turner is already looking so deadly is a huge boon for Racing. As is the fact that fellow rookie Emma Sears came on late and had a solid blast at goal that was so quick it went off Campbell’s face before she had time to react. These rookies still need some time to adjust to the league and not shoot at the keeper as much. If they can get their placement down, they’ll be unstoppable. Turner in particular seems a hair’s breadth away from clicking and reaching her full potential. With Uchenna Kanu and Elexa Bahr continuing to look good as well, Racing has ample avenues to continue their offensive output. Considering taking shots period used to be a major issue for Racing, this volume of shots and shots on target is heartening. If they can keep up this volume but fine-tune the delivery, they’ll be able to put games like this one to sleep.

Kayla Fischer / Image courtesy Jordan Prather-NWSL

Waiting in the Wings

It’s also notable that Racing could put on a dominant performance like this without the team at full strength. The team has been dealing with injuries since the beginning of the year that have unquestionably impacted it to some degree. In the Orlando match, Howell didn’t start which pushed Taylor Flint lower on the field to mixed results. In this match, star midfielder Savannah DeMelo was a late scratch. Furthermore, Ary Borges, Yuuka Kurosaki, and Kirsten Davis have not seen any minutes due to lingering leg injuries. Plus, new attacker Milly Clegg is still out and rehabbing from a hamstring injury.

This is a long list of players to be missing from the lineup — DeMelo, Borges, and Wright in particular with Clegg also having some strong potential. The fact Racing still had the depth to put out two strong if imperfect performances in their first two matches despite these hits to personnel is a very strong sign for the team’s future. Turner, in particular, has been a revelation and in only two games is already in contention for being the best No. 9 Racing has ever had. Even outside of Turner, the club can now safely rely on Fischer to sub in for DeMelo and Bahr to fill in Borges or Wright which gives the team opportunities they never had before. And with Bahr and Turner able to play across the whole front line, potential starting line options are almost endless.

To Sub or Not to Sub?

With this new improved depth, it probably would have benefited Racing to sub in players earlier than they did. Racing pressed hard all match and it wore them out. Their production dropped substantially in the second half, but they held on until Houston started putting in fresh legs. By that point, players were unable to keep up and the Dash came close to stealing the game. It’s true that subs can disrupt an established rhythm but Fischer was practically limping to goal for her final shot. And with the worn-out attackers less able to get back and aid the defense, the likes of Carson Pickett and Erceg were getting beaten up more than anyone would like to see this early in the season.

If Racing doesn’t want to sub as early, they need to figure out how to hold possession more for cool-off periods. They took so many shots in the first half that they turned the ball over quickly and then expended more energy winning it back. They did a solid job of controlling movement out of possession as well, but that involved a lot of hard pressing that ultimately wore players out. If they can figure out how to slow the tempo down for periods to save their legs, maybe they won’t need subs as much, but on Saturday, at least, it was clear that Bahr, Kanu, and Fischer were close to done before changes were made.

One aspect of this could be early season fitness, but if they’re going to play this style they need to have the level of fitness required to sustain it over 90 minutes. Or they need to be aggressive with substitutions. This is a new team and a new style so working out these nuances will take time, but it needs to be figured out soon or their hard work will go to waste through late opponent equalizers or go-ahead goals.

Looking Ahead

Racing’s road trip continues with a journey further west to Portland. It goes without saying that the Thorns are going to be a tough matchup even if their defense has looked shaky. In their only match played by the time of writing, they lost 5-4 to Kansas City. This shows that they’re still absolutely menacing in the attack but are vulnerable to clinical strikes. This is exactly why Racing needs to make their chances count. They can still pull points back and even win if they can just get one goal in the net.

Hopefully, the wear and tear of the Houston game won’t cost Racing too much on this long trip. The amount Pickett was down at the end was worrying, as was the fact that defender Arin Wright went down only minutes after subbing in despite the fact she did finish the match. It’s hard to know if DeMelo will be ready to play by next week, but Louisville fans can hope that Racing will be able to shake off their knocks, get back to business, and pull off their first win against the Thorns in Portland next Saturday.

Bekki Morgan

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