On Sunday, Racing earned a hard-fought 2-2 tie against OL Reign in Seattle. An away draw against one of the dominant teams in the league is a solid achievement for Racing, but this was another match featuring improved play marred by several costly mistakes. Brief mistakes led to several losses already in 2022, including both Challenge Cup losses to the Houston Dash and last week’s disappointing 2-1 loss to the Chicago Red Stars.
Jessica Mcdonald opened the action in the 23rd minute with a curler into the top right corner from inside the box off an assist from Cece Kizer. This was a particularly nice moment as McDonald was the only mother on the pitch during this Mother’s Day match. Unfortunately, Racing’s elation was short-lived. Ten minutes later they gave up the equalizer and the go-ahead goal in the 33rd and 37th minute respectively. In the second half, an excellent set piece taken by rookie standout Savannah DeMelo forced an own goal that leveled the score. Despite some solid chances on both sides, neither team would be able to pull ahead and the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
The fact Racing gave up their lead and allowed Seattle to score almost identical goals in just four minutes was reminiscent of their disastrous loss against the Houston Dash during the Challenge Cup. This time Racing was able to battle back and earn a draw which is a very positive development, but it still points to work that needs to be done.
“It shows that we have it in us,” said McDonald after the match. “We just have to believe in ourselves and obviously fix all the minor details that go a long way and that’s honestly just holding the lead. And I do believe that we could’ve gotten away with the three points today, but we let our heads down and let them get back into the game. They took the lead, and it was a fight in the second half. It’d be nice to not have a fight and be able to maintain the lead and that’s something that we’re going to have to work on and fix especially in this league.”
In spite of her frustrations, McDonald said that she’s still positive about the growth she sees in this young team. “We’re continuing to get better and better, don’t get me wrong. And I’m proud of these girls. I’m proud of the fight. It wasn’t an easy point on the road, but I think it’s just the minor details that were going to need to fix so we can hold onto a lead and know how to hold onto a lead and continue to fight for three points.”
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) May 9, 2022
By The Numbers
Despite falling behind in possession early on in the match, Racing was able to end with a mostly even 48%. Racing also matched OL Reign almost shot-for-shot in both halves. The teams ended with 15 (Racing) and 16 (OL Reign) shots respectively, although Seattle dominated in shots on target with nine to Louisville’s five.
Racing players continue their trend of improving the number of crosses taken each match. Last year, they would often not have many more beyond the number of corners taken. Last week, however, they broke two league records in crosses. This week, they had five more than Seattle with 20 which is another positive sign that the offensive is continuing to pick up even if they still need to work on their finishing.
Another interesting development in this match was how effectively Racing executed their high press to force turnovers. Racing had far more tackles (26) than OL Reign (18) and won a higher percentage of tackles, too (81% to 72%). They won possession 11 times in the final third compared to their opponent who won it only five times.
Although Jessica McDonald scored and Cece Kizer earned the assist, Savannah DeMelo was unquestionably the most effective player on the pitch. Playing out on the right-wing, she was one of the best players on the pitch on both sides of the ball. As mentioned, her set piece shot forced the own goal. She also had the most touches of any player on Racing and tied Jaelin Howell for the most passes in the final third of any player on both teams. DeMelo also tied Reign players for the most dribbles and the most successful dribbles and won possession more than any player on the pitch.
Despite understandable frustration on not getting the win after going ahead first, Racing has a lot to be positive about in this match. In seven games across all competition, Racing has only been shut out once in a draw against Kansas City. There’s no doubt that their attack has improved significantly between this year and last year in both personnel and execution. And it’s not just the eyeball test that’s showing Racing is pressing more effectively, stats show it, too.
A good deal of this is due to effective coaching from Kim Björkegren. A lot of it is also coming from the players themselves who are refusing to settle for losses and draws. Jessica McDonald’s frustration with Sunday’s result – even against a top team like OL Reign – is exactly the mentality Louisville needs in their front line. Watching the match, it’s clear that Savannah DeMelo was furious when the team went down in the first half. Instead of putting her head down and accepting it, she kicked it up a notch and earned player-of-the-match accolades. The mentality of this team is changing for the better. They still have issues with consistency to deal with, but they’re growing.
Ultimately, all signs point to Racing having the bones of a very good – possibly great – team. Those bones just aren’t fully matured. Although they’re no longer a baby expansion team, they’re still adolescents and have some growing to do. But, luckily, that’s exactly what they’re doing. They played OL Reign quite evenly and got a result. It wasn’t a perfect result, but a result nonetheless. Sure, Seattle was tired after their three matches in eight days, but dense schedules are part of life in the NWSL. Racing has three matches in nine games coming up next week and will have to fight through fatigue themselves. And OL Reign had all their starters but Megan Rapinoe on the pitch while Racing was missing one of their most essential players, Emily Fox, who was out with a minor muscle strain.
Although the result wasn’t perfect, this is absolutely a strong result for Racing Louisville. They’ve shown that they can contend with one of the best teams in the league. Mistakes will likely continue to cost them games, but they’ve shown strong progress which is the best that can really be asked for at this point.
“In the end, we were not far away from three points,” said coach Kim Björkegren after the match. “But one point in Seattle is not that bad, either. I’m proud of the girls. Overall, a good performance.”
Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi – Midfielder Alex Chidiac has arrived in Louisville. Although she didn’t travel with the team to Seattle, there’s a good bet she’ll see some minutes in Racing’s home opener on May 14.
W League Launch – Racing’s W League team squad has been announced. The biggest news is the inclusion of Florida State University standout defender Emily Madril on the roster. Before the 2022 college draft, many lists included her in the top 10 or even top five picks. Instead, she chose to play an extra year of eligibility granted to players who had their seasons impacted by Covid. Louisville-area fans should take the opportunity to see this potential future star-in-the-making and the rest of the W League squad this Sunday at 1 P.M. at Lynn Family Sports Vision and Training Center (the club’s training facility at 801 Edith Rd.). Check out the rest of the W League schedule here and remember, all W League games are free to attend!
Fox Forecast – Although Emily Fox missed the Seattle match on Sunday with a minor leg strain, she’s expected to be available for the home opener this Saturday. Besides Fox, Nadia Nadim is the only other player included on the most recent injury list. Nadim herself is expected to be ready to return to the lineup in June and has recently returned to full practice with the team.