Heart & Soul: Racing Louisville Falls 3-1 to the Pride in Orlando

Racing Louisville fell to the Orlando Pride 3-1 on Saturday night in a game that will have repercussions that extend far beyond this single match.

Disaster struck in the 13′ when a collision between the Pride’s Phoebe McClernon and Racing forward Nadia Nadim resulted in Nadim being stretchered off the field with a leg injury. Although the club has yet to release an official statement, Tom Garry from The Telegraph tweeted that he’d heard Nadim suffered an ACL tear.  She’s hoping to travel to England or Qatar in order to have surgery as quickly as possible to keep her hopes for participating in the 2022 Euros alive.

This injury is doubly heartbreaking for Nadim as she was due to earn her 100th cap for Denmark later this week – a milestone she’d mentioned being excited for.

Nadim’s injury is also quite the blow for Racing Louisville. Although she’d only joined the club in July, her presence has been immediately impactful for the team. She was named to the NWSL’s Team of the Month in August and has tallied three goals and one assist in seven games.  Nadim’s impact on Racing, however, extends far beyond just being a great player.

“She’s not only an important soccer player but an important human being for us and a great leader,” said interim coach Mario Sanchez after the match. Racing has long said they’ve focused on bringing in the right kind of veterans to help shape this young, inexperienced team. They looked for hard workers with strong principles and a willingness to teach and lead their younger teammates. Nadia is the exemplification of those traits.

“Losing Nadia at the beginning of the game was a huge gamechanger just because she’s, you know, she’s Nadia,” said Cece Kizer. “She’s the one that’s like the heart of soul and she really brings good energy for us so I think for us after that it was hard for us to gain our composure back.”

If Garry’s reporting is correct, this means a long recovery time should be expected before Nadim can play again. The best-case scenario would be about six months of post-operative recovery followed by additional training to return to proper playing condition. However, a myriad of complications can lengthen the recovery period significantly. As a result, it’s possible Nadim wouldn’t be able to return to Racing until after the Euros which take place in July 2022.

Small Steps

In a continuing trend, Racing is coming out strong each half but sputtering as time moves on. This trend is visualized well in the embedded tweet from GameFlow below.

Racing stayed strong throughout the first 20 minutes before being neutralized by Orlando’s first two goals. Then, they start out strong again in the second half only to be weakened by Alex Morgan’s goal.

According to Cece Kizer, the team is still working to develop their winning mentality.

“I think that’s a mentality that we need to continue to develop and just not allow one goal to defeat us and make us feel like we’re out of the game.”

There are signs, however, that this mindset is shifting. For much of the season, if an opponent scored first, Racing was almost guaranteed to be shut out. In their two most recent losses, however, they’ve been down 2-0 and still come back to score one. This is a definite sign of growing maturity.

Another thing Racing has been doing better in the past couple games is positioning themselves to gather up rebounds. In the past, not enough players would make runs into the box. If a shot was blocked or cleared poorly, no one would be there to collect it and take another shot. In this most recent match, Milliet and Kizer did a good job of staying positioned to collect loose balls. Kizer almost scored off one in the 17′ and 48′ and Milliet in the 18′. Now that Racing is getting better at creating opportunities, they need to clean up their finishing and, hopefully, they’ll start scoring more regularly.

As has been said ad nauseam by almost everyone involved in Racing, growth takes time. The fact that Racing is continuing to make progress in measurable ways shows that the team is still developing instead of regressing. They’re still deflating after giving up goals, but they’re also spoiling clean sheets. That’s progress. It’s a small step, but it’s still ain’t heading in the right direction.

According to Coach Sanchez, the losses haven’t dampened the team’s hunger.

“They said after the game that they’re not done,” he said after the match. “There’s still a lot of motivation there, there’s still a lot of points and we keep going and plug away and keep fighting to get that playoff spot.”

Cece Kizer runs with the ball
Cece Kizer / Image courtesy ISI Photos

Looking Even Further Ahead

While it’s great that the players remain motivated, it’s maybe time for Racing to look beyond this season and into the next. There are still some significant points to be earned – and I believe Racing can earn at least a couple more draws and maybe even a win this season – but it’s only fair to say that their playoff hopes are slipping out of reach.

According to Kizer, players believe that there’s still a lot for them to accomplish this season whether they make the playoffs or not.

“For us, every game is a playoff game and [a chance] for us to prove something every game.”

This is a very realistic and healthy way to look at the remaining handful of games. Racing should absolutely continue to fight for every single point they can earn. If that leads to the playoffs, that would be amazing. But, regardless of where they end up in the standings, Louisville should scale their expectations into showing that they can make progress each match.

I’m inclined to agree with Micheal Shaw from Fleur de Lis FC that now is a good time to try new formations and evaluate talent. This team has a talented core with a lot of potential. But questions linger about who works best where and in what combination. Experiments might yield beneficial results to build off for the future. Look at how successful moving Emily Fox to the right has been in the past two matches.

Sanchez is unsurprisingly thrilled with Fox’s performance on Saturday saying “In some aspects, she was one of our best attacking players today.”

Looking ahead to next week, Racing’s players get a brief respite during the international break. This is their first real sustained period of rest in months. In August, they played five games in 15 days, and in September, they played a match each week. Although short, breaks like this are critical to keeping players rested and focused.

“I do think they’re really helpful both mentally and physically to kind of relax and just take your mind off things,” said Emily Fox. “Every game is really tough. Every week is…It’s a hard league, it’s a hard season, for sure.”

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.