“It’s a Process”: Racing Louisville Shows Potential Despite Elimination from Playoffs

Racing Louisville was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with their 0-3 loss to the Washington Spirit on Saturday night.

After the match, interim coach Mario Sanchez called the match frustrating but still saw some potential. He praised Cheyna Matthews and Emina Ekic for coming off the bench and adding a spark late in the game. And, he’s happier with the number of chances created compared to other recent matches.

“As I told the team afterward, it’s a process,” Sanchez said. “We’re going to continue to learn and develop and get better and better every day and that’s never going to end.”

Although they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs, Sanchez is adamant that the process won’t change. The team wants to win every game, playoffs or not and that will be their focus until the end.

“These are great pros,” said Sanchez of the players. “They’re frustrated, they want to do well, they want to get results. They show up every day and they work hard and they’re committed to it as well, so nothing changes at all.”

Emily Fox
Emily Fox during the match against the Spirit on October 9 / Image courtesy ISI Photos

A Solid Foundation

Despite the lopsided scoreline, Racing demonstrated their future potential in how well their rookies performed. Taylor Otto played her first 90 minutes as a professional and looked like a seasoned vet. Emina Ekic came off the bench got three of Racing’s 11 total shots in only 18 minutes in the game. And, Emily Fox demonstrated her versatility by playing just as dynamically in the midfield as she has in the back.

Of the players, Sanchez was particularly effusive in his praise of Fox: “I think she’s proven that she’s a national team player. Game and game out when you see the opponents we play with other national team players on it, I would put Fox up there with anyone.”

As for Otto, Sanchez said she’s been training hard and “absolutely earned” her minutes this match. He was pleased with her performance, especially since she hasn’t played that often or that consistently all season.

Sanchez said Ekic has shown moments of “absolute brilliance” throughout the season. While minor injuries have prevented her from playing at times, she’s been able to provide a spark off the bench now that she’s fully healthy.

Racing clearly chose their top three college draft picks well. All three players are part of a solid foundation of young talent that Racing can build on in future seasons. With a top-two pick and likely the fourth pick in the 2022 college draft, Racing will certainly be looking to add more starting-caliber talent to the roster. Also, let’s not forget about the players who chose to use their additional year of NCAA eligibility in 2021. Texas Tech’s Kirsten Davis has 12 goals in 2021 the season and, after being drafted, said she will “eagerly head to Louisville in 2022”. Arkansas standout Parker Goins was picked by Racing in the third round of the draft and has seven goals and seven assists so far in the season. Add in young, but more experienced players like Savannah McCaskill, Cece Kizer, and Lauren Milliet, and Racing has a pretty solid foundation to build on.

When using these top-round draft picks, Racing’s leadership will surely be concentrating on filling some of the most obvious gaps in the roster. In particular, Racing needs more depth in their midfield. While it’s excellent that Otto looks to be a solid option, there’s no doubt Racing still needs growth in this area. Additionally, additional help in defense is absolutely necessary. On Saturday and again in the recent match against Houston, defensive miscues led to multiple goals for the opponents. Part of these defensive breakdowns is due to injury. Addisyn Merrick has been out for much of the season and Julia Ashley and Gemma Bonner have floated on and off of the injury list. But injury or not, something just hasn’t fully clicked for Racing defensively. They’ll likely need to get another top defender to round out the roster and provide the depth they need.

In the meantime, however, Racing will continue to focus on trying to pull points out of their final three matches. There’s sure to be more experimentation with lineups to evaluate players. Unfortunately, some of that experimentation will be forced. Savannah McCaskill will miss playing in a Racing match for the first time all season next week after receiving her fifth yellow card. McCaskill has been a critical player for Racing, but her absence might allow Otto to gain some more minutes and allow Fox to continue playing in the midfield.

By the Numbers

Racing, once again, didn’t have a great night numerically. They only maintained 43% possession and had a passing accuracy of approximately 71%. Racing had a total of 11 shots on goal with three of them being on target.

These may seem like dire numbers, but they’re actually a fairly stark improvement from the last two matches. Against North Carolina, Racing only had 31% possession and 61% passing accuracy. They also only had five shots total with two on goal. Against Houston Racing did manage 46% possession, but their passing accuracy was only 65% and they only had three shots total with none on goal

Therefore, it’s fair to say Racing has been turning things around to some extend since Houston. They still have a long way to go, but they are creating better chances and controlling the game a bit better. Passing accuracy still needs drastic improvement, however.

“We Stand Behind Our Club”

Racing will have a couple of days off at home after two consecutive away matches in North Carolina and Washington. These days are especially needed as all NWSL players continue to weather the fallout from the myriad of scandals plaguing the league.

After last week’s game against North Carolina, Michelle Betos and Savannah McCaskill both spoke of the need for systemic change across the league. They also both praised Racing’s management for their handling of the events surrounding former Coach Christy Holly’s termination early last month.

Since then, the NWSL Player’s Association has released a statement with Racing Louisville’s players reiterating this stance. It reads: “As the PA, media, and fans all demand greater transparency from the league, we ask that they continue to understand that player safety will always be at the forefront. We stand behind Racing Louisville in the handling of the Club’s recent matter and ask everyone to please trust and stand with us at this time.”

Betos retweeted this statement and reiterated her earlier comments saying she believes wholeheartedly that Racing is “setting the standard for women’s soccer.”

After Saturday’s match, Sinclaire Miramontez elaborated on why this statement from the NWSLPA was necessary.

“Everybody wants transparency from the league and the clubs and everything like that. That is something that has come up quite a bit,” said Miramontez about Holly’s firing. “We felt that we wanted to maintain the privacy of those involved. And so, I feel like putting out that statement allowed people to know that our club is trying to protect the players, and putting the players first, and they have been putting the players first from day one.

“I think it was important to put that statement out so that people know we stand behind our club and their decisions. And moving forward, we have faith in our front office doing the right thing and putting player safety first.”

As for the rest of the league, the NWSLPA continues to insist that every club in the league meet their demands, including submitting to a full investigation of all personal and owners, have any personnel involved in any of the recent scandals voluntarily “step back” until their role has been investigated, and allowing players association representatives to have a say in the hiring of the new commissioner. The entire NWSL player pool is unified in supporting these demands and Racing Louisville’s players are no exception.

“We won’t be silenced,” said Lauren Milliet after the match. “Part of that is taking our voice back and making sure we are heard and our demands are met. So at the end of the day, we’re going to continue this pursuit of systemic change and all these cultural changes and we won’t stop until those demands are met.”

Just because Racing’s team is young and less experienced with the NWSL doesn’t mean they’re any less hungry for change. Said Miramontez, “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in this league one year or nine years. All of us want to make this league better than when we came in.”

Looking Ahead

Racing next plays the Orlando Pride in Louisville on Saturday, October 16 at 7:30 PM. This will be their last weekend home game in their inaugural season. The following match on Wednesday, October 28 against NJ/NY Gotham FC will be their final home match period. And then they will end the season on Saturday, October 30 in New Jersey as they once again play Gotham.

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.