Marathon Pacing: Previewing Racing Louisville’s Next Three Matches

After two long weeks of rest, Racing Louisville will need to hit the ground running as they face three matches in just seven days. This succession of matches will test Racing’s depth and almost certainly lead to heavy rotation in lineups. Luckily for Racing, they now have the deepest player pool they’ve ever had.

Racing will have their first two games at home where they’ve traditionally played better. They have a 1-1-2 record across all competition at Lynn Family Stadium and they’ve scored multiple goals in every match there, except in the 0-0 draw to Kansas City. A huge part of this boost is the support provided by their loud and energetic fans. Starting June 20, Lynn Family Stadium will have the opportunity for full capacity for the first time, so it’ll likely be the biggest home crowd Racing has played against.

“I think having the fans there is kind of like a 12th man on the field,” said Emina Ekic about the atmosphere provided by the team’s supporters. “I’m really excited to see what it’s going to be like at 100% capacity because going in my first game against Orlando when it was 30%, it felt full. So I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like on June 20 when we play Houston. I’m really excited.”

With three games in such quick succession, it’s easier to preview all three at once. So let’s look ahead to see what Racing has in store for their marathon week.

Know Your Foe(s)

Houston Dash
Houston Dash players celebrate a goal against Portland. Image courtesy the Dash.

The Houston Dash: First Time Foes

Who: Racing Louisville (1-2-1) hosts the Houston Dash (2-2-1)

When: Sunday, June 20 at 3:00 PM ET

Where: Lynn Family Stadium, Louisville, KY / Live on Paramount+ (subscription required)

This will be Racing’s first time facing the Dash. With both teams having some significant roster changes, this match has a lot of question marks.

Formed in 2013, Houston was the first expansion team in the NWSL. As with all expansion teams, they’ve struggled in past seasons and have never qualified for the playoffs. In 2020, they seemed to have turned a corner when they won the inaugural Challenge Cup. The Dash are now considered a top team and widely considered to be playoff contenders this season. They started this regular season with two losses and a draw, but they’ve since rallied to win their last two.

Racing may have some advantage over Houston in terms of roster selections. Houston will be missing a key player in captain Rachel Daly, as she’s in England preparing for the Olympics. Another big star, Kristie Mewis, just finished a stint with the United States national team. She started the most recent match on Wednesday against Nigeria which may put her on limited minutes on Sunday.

Louisville, on the other hand, will likely debut new acquisitions Ebony Salmon and Gemma Bonner. Salmon is currently listed as questionable, but she’s almost certain to get minutes. Bonner has no such limitations and, with fellow center back Brooke Hendrix listed as questionable, it’s highly likely Bonner will start. Defenders Addisyn Merrick (listed questionable), Julia Ashley, and forward Cheyna Matthews are all newly available for selection, adding to Racing’s depth.

Even without Daly and possibly Mewis, Houston will be a challenge for Racing. Houston plays very aggressively, so Racing will need to stay calm under pressure and focus on keeping possession. Teams have managed to score on Houston in four of their last five games, but Houston has always kept the scoreline low, never giving up more than two goals a game. Racing needs to step up in offensive production badly, as they’ve been shut out their last two matches. Salmon and Matthews will certainly help in that area, as will CeCe Kizer being allowed to return to her more natural position deeper down the field.

Lauren Milliet

Lauren Milliet takes on the Courage. Image courtesy of EM Dash photography.

The North Carolina Courage: Searching for Vengeance

Who: Racing Louisville (1-2-1) hosts the North Carolina Courage (1-2-1)

When: Wednesday, June 23 at 7:30 PM ET

Where: Lynn Family Stadium, Louisville, KY / Live on Paramount+ (subscription required)

If the Dash are unknowns, the Courage are probably a bit too familiar for Racing’s liking. Racing have lost both their matches against North Carolina. First in a 3-4 nail biter during the Challenge Cup and then in a painful 0-5 thumping back in May.

The added players for Racing give them depth they didn’t have the last time they met the Courage. This gives them a whole new look that North Carolina hasn’t seen before. With the home field advantage and some healthy thirst for vengeance, Racing may be able to pull off a surprise. The most important thing Racing can do this match, however, is demonstrate growth. What have they learned from their last meet-up? Can the defense hold it together even if things start heading downhill? Bonner will certainly add maturity to the backline and Ashley and Merrick are strong potential additions, too. But with limited time spent playing together, it might take a few games for the defense to fully gel.

The Courage, for their part, are on somewhat of a rocky trajectory. Shortly before winning against Racing, they lost at home to Orlando. This loss helped fuel them to their 0-5 blowout the following week. After that, they lost on the road to the Red Stars in a very underwhelming 0-1 performance. Will this loss fuel them towards another win against Racing? We’ll find out Wednesday night!

The Chicago Red Stars: Unfamiliar Territory

Who: The Chicago Red Stars (2-2-1) host Racing Louisville (1-2-1)

When: Saturday, June 26 at 2:00 PM ET

Where: Lynn Family Stadium, Louisville, KY / Live on Paramount+ (subscription required)

Like the Dash, the Red Stars are also facing Racing for the very first time. And like the Courage, they’ve also had some extreme ups and down in their start to the season.

The Red Stars are the last club to survive from previous women’s professional leagues. Their first season was in 2009 as a founding team in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league. After that league collapsed, they spent single year stints in the Women’s Premiere Soccer League and the Women’s Premiere Soccer League Elite before the NWSL was finally founded in 2013.

The Red Stars have never been champions of the NWSL, but every year they seem to get closer. They’ve been in the semifinals every year since 2015 and were the runners up in 2019 when they lost to the Courage. Their roster is littered with United States national team members, including Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson, Mallory Pugh, Morgan Gautrat and Alyssa Naeher, who were all World Cup winners in 2019.

The Red Stars will be without Ertz, who is out with an ankle injury. However, Mallory Pugh is looking better than she has in years as she’s finally recovering from prolonged injury setbacks.

It’s hard to say which Red Stars team will show up to Lynn Family Stadium. Will it be the team who were decimated 0-5 by the Thorns in their season opener? Or will it be the more settled, solid team that beat the Courage 1-0 in their last match? The Red Stars also had the same Challenge Cup record than Racing with two draws and two losses, but they did worse on goal differential.

Once again, Racing will have to rely on offensive firepower to win this match. The Red Stars have a strong midfield and defense – even with Ertz out – so Racing will have to be patient in building up plays and holding possession long enough to get forward.

Marathon Pacing

Even with the bonus of two home games, Racing’s upcoming week is nothing short of a marathon. They’ll need to pace themselves and quickly shake off the previous matches’ results – good or bad – and move on to the next challenge. New depth on the bench certainly came at a good time, but it’s likely more players than ever will need to step up and contribute at some point.

What will success look like for Louisville? Obviously, the team wants to go for the win. But in the absence of that, earning some draws and stopping the deluge of goals against will be a sign of progress. So will getting on the scoresheet. Racing has the worst goal differential of any team in the league and they need to start digging themselves out of that now if they have a chance at improving their standings this season.

The story of an expansion team in the NWSL is one of slow growth. Racing is already off to a pretty good start and all the new additions mean they might look like a totally different team this week. They’re just finally settling into what will likely be their final roster and they’ll have to absorb some lumps as they figure things out. But with some much new potential added – including Nadia Nadim who hasn’t even arrived yet – it’s very easy to say that, with Racing Lousiville, the best is still yet to come.

 

ICYMI:

  • If you’re not following Fleur-de-lis FC, you’re missing out. It’s a new Racing fan blog with player profiles, player ratings, recaps, and more. And it updates daily!
  • Club President Brad Estes was interviewed by Jen Cooper on the Mixxed Zone podcast a few days ago and he had a lot of great info about Racing, the stadium, the kits, and even how well they’re selling. (Spoiler: *really* well.) Check it out here on the Beautiful Game Network.
  • Nealy Martin was a guest on the Hammering Down podcast and talked about her Alabama roots, her time playing in college, and – oh yeah – that time she was struck by lightening?!
  • Christy Holly was on the Hot Brown Soccer Town podcast (part of the Beautiful Game Network!) talking about life, competition, resilience, and even some soccer.
  • Ebony Salmon was a guest on Soccer City Radio on ESPN680 last Thursday in her first major interview in the states! You don’t want to miss it.
  • Wednesday night’s game against the Courage is Racing’s Pride Night! Click the link below to learn more about the celebration and afterparties ticketholders get to attend. Also, consider joining the Lou City/Racing Louisville supporter’s group PrideRaiser to benefit LGBT+ youth in the region. And pick up some great Racing pride gear at the team store online or at the stadium. (Psst – Pride scarves and trucker hats are available at the stadium but not online.)

Author

Bekki Morgan

Covering Racing Louisville and the NWSL. Find me on Twitter and Instagram: @sukiisacat.