Racing Louisville Gets Edged Out the Portland Thorns

“An Unfortunate Result”

Racing Louisville’s winless streak extended to seven when they were edged out 2-1 by the Portland Thorns on Friday. Despite the disappointing result, it was another hard-fought match for Louisville. After conceding a goal in the 7th minute, Racing was able to settle into the game shortly after. In the 29th minute, Racing found the equalizer when Alex Chidiac charged down the end line, charged past a Thorns defender, and toe-poked in a shot past the near post from an almost impossible angle.

In the second half, Racing came out on the front foot and looked to be the better team for the first 20 or so minutes. In the 73rd minute, however, a shot from the Thorns was blocked but not collected by keeper Katie Lund. Hina Sugita was left unmarked and collected the rebound and scored virtually unopposed before Lund could get back on her feet. Although Racing had several good chances, including shots from Jessica McDonald, Jaelin Howell, and Emily Fox, they were unable to find the equalizer and the match ended 2-1.

“Right now, the only thing we want is three points, so we are disappointed today,” said coach Kim Björkegren after the match. “They are fighting, and we played against a good team. They are doing their best. There are details we need to be better at and still, there are way too many second-chance goals, so it’s about having a better reading of the game but also small details.”

Regardings Racing’s string of winless games, goal-scorer Chidiac admitted it was tough for the team. Still, she said the team is still learning from each game and said the locker room remains positive.

“The team is really, really close,” she said. “A lot of people from the outside probably don’t realize that, and they think these results are breaking us. But sometimes that’s football. We’re going to get the results. We definitely feel that. It’s probably good for us that you’ve got two more games coming up really soon because we can rectify this loss.”

This match saw center back Satara Murray get her first minutes for Racing. She just returned from a successful stint helping Jamaica qualify for the World Cup in the Concacaf W Championship. Of her debut, Murray said, “Obviously Portland is a really good side. I knew it was going to be difficult coming in. I feel honored and happy to get an opportunity to start – hopefully more to come. It’s an unfortunate result, obviously, but I think we can continue to keep building, and I’m really happy with just getting some minutes under my belt here.”

By the Numbers

This was a disappointing match for Racing fans. There’s no question about that. But it would be a mistake to forget just how dominant the Thorns are and just how well they dominated us in previous meetups. Comparing Friday’s stats to both clubs’ matches last season really puts this into perspective.

In their first two meetings, Racing lost 3-0 (June 5, 2021)  and 2-0 (July 3, 2021). Friday night was the first time Racing ever scored on Portland and the first time they didn’t lose by two or more goals. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Now, let’s look at possession. On Friday, Racing got an admirable 49% to Portland’s 51%. That’s almost dead even. Comparatively, in June 2021, Racing had only 41% of possession.  In July, they managed a slight improvement with 43%, but that’s still not close to Racing’s almost 50% possession on Friday. This clearly shows Racing was more in control of this match than in previous ones.

Next, let’s look at shooting and shooting accuracy. In their first meeting in June of 2021, the Thorns had 28 shots with 12 on target compared to Racing’s 4 shots with 0 on target. (Yikes!) It got a little better in July when Portland had 17 shots with 7 on target and Racing had 9 shots with 4 on target. This past Friday, Portland had 25 shots, but only 6 on target while Racing had 17 shots and 7 on target. That’s a notable increase in production in shot-taking.

In short, it’s undeniable that this is the best match Racing ever played against Portland. Considering the Thorns briefly ascended to first place as a result of this win, that’s a big accomplishment for Racing. The Thorns also have a positive goal differential of 20 which is by far the highest in the league. They’ve beaten teams 4-0, 5-0, and 6-0 this season alone. Six of their 13 games have been shutouts, so scoring on them and holding them to only two goals is a big accomplishment for Racing. It might be cold comfort to some degree considering Racing dropped a desperately needed three points, but it’s still a performance to be proud of.

Satara Murray / Image courtesy EM Dash-USA TODAY Sports

The Same Old Story

In many ways, this match was demonstrative of Racing’s entire season so far: Some strong positives and signs of progress that get negated by small mistakes and lapses that lose the team points. On the positive end are the stats discussed above, Murray’s confident introduction to Racing, and Chidiac’s mind-blowing goal. But on the negative side, it’s the same mistakes that are costing Racing again and again.

There were several times in the match when the back line seemed unsure of who was covering who which let opponents get off far too many shots. They were hesitant and no one was going after second balls. They got away unscathed several times in the first half, but Sugita was able to find the game-winner when shooting almost completely unopposed. It can be argued that Lund needed to scoop the ball up better than she did, but defenders should still be in place to protect the net just in case. At the very least, Sugita’s run should have been marked by someone.

This might be coming from the fact there’s been so little stability in the back line all season. Murray played well, but she’s the fifth or possibly even sixth player to play as a center back this season for Racing. There’s been tons of movement on the outside, too, with Emily Fox, Nealy Martin, Rebecca Holloway, Zenata Wyne, Lauren Milliet, Erin Simon, and Addisyn Merrick all putting in shifts. With so much movement and swapping back and forth, it’s no wonder players are unsure of who is marking who. It’s no wonder positioning is off at times.

Some of this movement is unavoidable with Emily Fox and Rebecca Holloway and Satara Murray all going away for most of July to play in international tournaments. Much of it, however, is from the extreme amount of turnover Racing has faced this season with Merrick getting traded and Simon getting waived. Also, Milliet is a natural midfielder. With so much strength in the midfield, it’s clear Björkegren would rather play Milliet out of position than not play her at all. But with an already unsteady back line, is that really the best option for the team?

The thing Racing arguably needs more than anything is stability. The players say at every opportunity that they’re happy, they’re bought in, and they believe in what’s being built. But they need to have a stable roster. They need to know what the others are doing on the pitch and where they’ll be. Until Racing can stop shifting players on and off the roster or around the pitch, wins will remain hard to find.

Racing players celebrate Alex Chidac’s goal against Portland / Image courtesy EM Dash-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Ahead

“After a loss, all you want to do is get back on the pitch,” is what Gemma Bonner told me in our chat after Friday’s match. Racing will certainly have that chance with two more games coming up this week. On Tuesday, they play OL Reign and on Friday they play the Washington Spirit.

There is absolutely no question that these games are huge for Racing. The loss to Portland dropped them to 11th place and only two points out from the bottom of the table. There are only nine games left and they need to get a minimum of four points if they’re going to even stay in the playoff conversation or even move up the standings. Racing is improving, there’s no doubt about that. Not just against the Thorns, but this year they’ve clearly been better than they were last year. But all the improvement in the world won’t help them this season if they don’t start getting wins.

The last time Racing met both the Spirit and OL Reign, the games ended in 2-2 draws. If Racing plays their cards right and can hold off making the same errors they’ve made, these games are winnable. OL Reign is an incredibly strong team with a lot of depth, but Racing has played them well before. OL Reign will also be traveling for the second time in four days while Racing gets to rest at home. Although they’ll certainly be a tough team to beat, this might give Racing enough of a leg up to get at least a point out of the match.

The Spirit has been going through a rough patch since winning the Challenge Cup. They’ve drawn almost every game but only won one all season. Just like Racing, they’ll be extremely hungry for wins and they’ll probably see Racing as one of the better targets to earn one. There is little doubt Spirit players like Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, and Ashley Sanchez will have a very good chance at getting on the scoreboard. In order to beat the Spirit, Racing will simply have to want it more. Racing has shown they can play pretty well against the Spirit, but they need to be on their goal-scoring best to do so.

There’s a lot of pressure on Racing for these next two matches. The players say they’re close and in good shape mentally now, but if they fall out of playoff contention early or let this streak without a win continue, it’ll be hard for them to keep the positive mentality going. In many ways, these next matches will be one of Racing’s hardest tests yet. Their progress between this season and last season is undeniable but wins and losses are what ultimately count. How they perform this week may determine the course of the rest of their season.

Bekki Morgan

Covering Racing Louisville on the Beautiful Game Network and the central NWSL teams on Co-host of Butchertown Rundown: A Racing Louisville Podcast. Find me on Twitter @bekki_morgan and my pod @ButchertownR.