On Friday morning, Racing Louisville confirmed the news that head coach Kim Björkegren had departed the club after two years.
“I want to say thank you for two great years,” Björkegren said in a statement released by the club. “It has been a lot of hard work, but I’m now happy to leave the club in a better position from when I came to Louisville. I want to say a special thanks to the owners, especially John Neace and his family, and thanks to the president James O’Connor, the staff, and, of course, to the players. Thanks to the fans and to all the people who make Racing and Louisville a great place. After many years abroad, it’s now time to go back home to Sweden with my family.”
In a Friday morning press conference, general manager Ryan Dell thanked Björkegren for “two great years” with Racing Louisville and said he’s happy that the coach can return home to be with his family after an extended absence.
Björkegren inherited a team in 2022 that had been rocked by a disastrous tenure by inaugural coach Christy Holly who was later found to have subjected players to verbal and sexual abuse. The stoic Swede Björkegren was a breath of fresh air in many regards when he arrived after such tumult and there’s no question he had a calming effect on the club and helped shift it to a much more professional entity. During Björkegren’s tenure, Racing drafted keystone midfielders Jaelin Howell and Savannah DeMelo and made key acquisitions such as the trade for defenders Carson Pickett and Abby Erceg, signing midfielder Ary Borges and forward Thembi Kgatlana. The first long-term player contracts were also signed under Björkegren which demonstrates the level of stability the club found under his tenure.
Even with these huge advancements, Björkegren’s departure from Louisville wasn’t a great surprise. Although the club did make the Challenge Cup final to fight for their first league-sanctioned hardware this summer, they failed to make the regular season playoffs and ended in ninth place for the third year in a row. For a team that has talented players such as Kgatlana, Howell, DeMelo, and more on their roster, they underperformed this season. They simply couldn’t figure out how to pull off wins. They tied the Washington Spirit for the most draws of the season with nine and only managed six wins. Too often they looked disorganized or ineffective on the pitch and gave up too many points as a result.
Players had also become increasingly vocal at the end of the season about how they were unsatisfied with the team’s tactics. After the last match of the season — a 2-0 loss to the San Diego Wave — veteran Erceg was asked where the team could improve next year and she responded, “Tactically, I think there’s a ton of improvement that we can have here.”
Her sentiments were echoed by captain Howell who said, “I think when we came out and played like we knew how to play, were tactically prepared, and understood what needed to be done and came out with the right mentality, we were able to beat any team in the league. But then obviously we’d show up as a different team sometimes and it hurt us.”
So while it’s clear Björkegren played an important and vital role for Racing during their transition away from their troubled first year, the team had stagnated on the field and in the standings so the decision for club and coach to mutually part ways is understandable.
Looking ahead, Dell said that the search for the next coach is in its earliest days, but he’s excited by the candidates he’s already spoken with. Racing will be aggressive with their hiring and prioritize it over the coming weeks as well. As for what qualities the club is looking for, Dell said they want a coach with National Women’s Soccer League experience as well as someone who can work with the academy to build the relationship between the youth program and the first team.
Dell also dismissed any concerns that losing Björkegren was a sign of instability in the club and said that the players, staff, and front office are “extremely tight.”
Racing Louisville will have their work cut out for them as Louisville is the fifth club out of 12 in the NWSL to announce they are looking for a new head coach.