Louisville Earn a Gutsy 0-0 Draw Against the Houston Dash

Grinding It Out

Another day, another draw for Racing Louisville. On Friday night they tied their third straight game when their match against the Houston Dash ended 0-0.

This draw wasn’t like other draws, however. There was tension simmering around the edges before the match started. This was Racing’s first time meeting the Dash since they traded Ebony Salmon to Houston. To say Salmon has been on a tear since leaving Louisville is an understatement. Before Friday, she’d scored six goals in three games and most viewers were expecting her to continue this trend against her former squad. It was not to be, however. Racing did a good job of stopping Salmon who only got off two shots although both were on target.

This is even more remarkable considering Racing was playing with only 10 players for about 50 minutes of the match. Center back Satara Murray got a yellow card in the 33rd minute after fouling Shea Groom. Just about 10 minutes later, she fouled Salmon and got sent off with a second yellow. Despite this massive loss, Racing held on throughout the rest of the game and even improved markedly in the second half. So while another draw may be disheartening in almost every other circumstance, earning a shutout in a game where they played down a player the majority of the time is a win in and of itself.

“The whole squad deserves huge credit with the way we stuck together until halftime,” said defender Gemma Bonner. “There was never panic in the group. What you saw was a different side of us – we have to be hard to beat, first and foremost, and fight for each other, and you could see that in abundance.”

“It was very tough,” admitted midfielder Jaelin Howell after the match. “Playing away, hot and humid, playing with 10 players – we definitely had to grind it out and come together and work hard. Obviously, we don’t want to be in that position, but it happens. To come out with a point, we fought pretty hard for that. But we want to start getting on that winning track.”

A Huge Addition

Another major moment of the match was the debut of Chinese national team member Wang Shuang for Racing. Although only 27 years old, Wang has over 100 caps for the Steel Roses, as the Chinese women’s team is known. She’s also the first Chinese footballer to play in the NWSL.

Although she entered in the 60th minute, Wang had enough time to get Racing fans excited about what she can bring to the team. Her movement in space and ability to read plays was immediately apparent. In the 83rd minute, she sent in a lovely diagonal cross in to Jessica McDonald and she had one of Racing’s best chances all night when she attempted to catch keeper Jane Campbell off her line. Unfortunately, her shot from distance went too high and over the bar.

“The first thing I said to Wang was ‘welcome to the NWSL,'” said Bonner with a laugh about Wang’s debut taking place in such an atypical match. As for what she saw from the new addition in her 20 or so minutes on the field, Bonner had nothing but praise.

“You can see her natural talent is unbelievable. The way she sees the game.” Although Bonner said there’s a language barrier, Wang is such a natural that she picks up everything in practices and games immediately with very little trouble. And personality-wise, Bonner described her as happy and fitting in well with the group immediately.

“She’s a huge addition for us,” said Bonner. “She’s the kind of player we want to be attracting to the club. Her as a person and her as a player are unbelievable from what we’ve seen so far.”

By the Numbers

Despite Houston dominating the first half of the match, possession was pretty even throughout the match with Racing ultimately winning 48%. What was less even, however, was the number of shots. Houston had 15 shots with 10 on target while Racing had 3 shots with none on target. Considering Racing was down a player for the majority of the match, this isn’t too surprising, however.

The most interesting and surprising aspect of this match is actually how Racing responded to going down a player. They moved from a 3-5-2  formation into a 4-4-1 – or possibly more accurately a 4-2-2-1 – with a box midfield after losing Murray. Although the 3-5-2 worked well against the Washington Spirit, it looked far shakier against Houston and the team stabilized once they moved into a more traditional four-back.

In the first half, when Racing had all their players for the majority of the half, Racing had zero shots. Compare this to Houston having 8 shots with 3 on target and 2 big chances in the same time period. In the second half, however, after going down a player, Racing actually played significantly better. All 3 of their shots came in the second half so they actually created more chances with fewer players. They also nearly doubled their final third entries in the second half (15 in the first, 24 in the second half). And although Houston had more shots on target in the second half (7 out of 7) their xG dropped from .73 to .25 from half to half showing they were far less dangerous in the last 45 minutes.

Individually, it’s worth noting that Katie Lund had another big night in goal with 10 saves. Emily Fox, who won player of the match accolades, also had an excellent game. Her shot on goal came the closest and earned the most xG for Racing. She also led the team in interceptions with 2.

Jaelin Howell on the ball / Image courtesy Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

A Different Side

As Bonner said in her post-game interview, this match, and particularly the second half, showed a different side of Racing. This shift in numbers from half to half demonstrated that Racing adjusted well tactically to the setback and executed the game plan effectively. Considering Racing has struggled with adjusting from half to half in the past, this is a positive sign for the squad.

“I’m extremely proud of the fighting spirit in the second half,” said coach Kim Björkegren after the match. “We said, ‘Let’s break this game down into three times’ – 45 minutes to 60, 61 to 75, 76 to stoppage time. We did a really good job, and we did our best from the sides to coach them and help them. It was a really good performance when it comes to hard work and discipline, especially in the second half.”

Bonner said that the team knew they had to be way more tactical in the second half and needed to pick and choose their moments. They seemingly did just that. Although three shots are underwhelming in most cases, getting any shots off against a top three team in the league while down a player is, frankly, impressive.

Ultimately, the team is probably relieved to get a point out of a match like Friday’s but another draw is still a tough pill to swallow. The consolation in all of this remains that Racing is an extremely tough team to break down. They’ve drawn eight out of 16 matches and have drawn four out of their last 6. They’re young and they’ve had lapses as a result, but they’re competitive in every match they’ve played.

As the team fails to get wins, it’s clear post-season is becoming more of a pipe dream. Racing is now likely fighting for a middle-of-the-table position more than a playoff berth. As of Saturday night, the club sits in ninth place with 14 points thanks to the Washington Spirit losing to Portland and North Carolina losing to Kansas City. They could drop to 10th if Gotham pulls out an upset against OL Reign on Sunday.

It goes without saying that if Racing has any hope of climbing the table they need to start getting wins. Even if it’s not enough to push them into the playoffs, a couple more wins could help them eke out a rise in the standings which could at least be an additional sign they’re on the right track. But for now, the team has a two-week break in NWSL play. That doesn’t mean they won’t be seeing any action, however, as the second annual Women’s Cup kicks off tomorrow, Sunday, August 14th.

Looking Ahead: The Women’s Cup

The Women’s Cup debuted last year in Louisville and ended up generating one of the greatest moments in Racing’s short history: the dramatic penalty kickoff to determine the winner. Katie Lund is now well ensconced as the starting keeper for Racing, but at this time last year, she was subbing in for her very first professional minutes in the final against Bayern Munich. And she became the hero of the match when she not only stood up against 10 penalty kicks from Bayern players but lined up to convert one herself and then stopped her fellow keeper’s kick immediately after to secure the win and Racing’s first hardware.

This year, the Women’s Cup is sure to have even more exciting moments as six teams will now participate – up from four last year. Tokyo Verdy Beleza from Japan, Club América from Mexico, AC Milan from Italy, and Tottenham Hotspurs from England make up the international competition while Racing will be joined by OL Reign to represent the NWSL. A club competition of this size is unprecedented in the United States and the fact that it’s happening in Louisville, KY is huge for the city and huge for Racing Louisville.

The games start Sunday with a doubleheader featuring the international teams facing off against each other. On Wednesday, the losers of these matches will play for fifth and sixth place while the winners take on Racing Lousiville or OL Reign in a triple-header. The action wraps up on Sunday when the championship and bronze medal matches will take place.

For Racing, getting the chance to play in matches against completely novel opponents without the weight of their regular season performance may prove to be liberating for the team. If they can get a win or two in the Women’s Cup, it might help them get over this hump where they’re playing good football, but just can’t scratch out a win.

Either way, there will be some excellent football taking place with some unprecedented competition from all over the world. If you can, please take the time to come check out the tournament and support an incredible local event. If you can’t, you’ll be able to watch all the matches on Paramount+ in the United States and via www.thewomenscup.tv in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Northern Africa. There’s actually barely any part of the world where this tournament won’t be broadcast, so make sure to check out the tournament’s website to find out about other ways to watch.

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.