For the last match of the 2021 Challenge Cup, Racing Louisville headed north to take on NJ/NY Gotham FC, formerly Sky Blue FC. Although Racing Louisville FC was no longer in contention for advancing in the cup, the team still had reason to go out and perform. The squad was looking to build off their previous performances to find their first win and this would also be Coach Holly’s first encounter against his former club.
Racing Louisville FC
For this final Challenge Cup match, Racing Louisville was deployed into the same 4-2-3-1 seen during the #LOUvNC match. Cece Kizer led the line flanked by Yuki, Savannah McCaskill, and Emina Ekic. Lauren Milliet and Freija Olofsson took up position midfield. Emily Fox, Kaleigh Riehl, Brooke Hendrix, and Erin Simon made up the back line and Captain Michelle Betos was in goal.
— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) May 2, 2021
Racing Louisville were the early aggressors in the matchup with a promising buildup driving the ball into the opposition’s box but failed to register a shot. Moments later at 7’, Gotham fired back with a cross through Racing’s box that just narrowly missed connecting with the head of their charging attacker. Milliet responded with a moment of individual brilliance by swiping the ball from an unsuspecting Gotham player, driving it to the box’s edge, and hammering a shot a foot or two wide of the goal. It was great early pressure from Louisville. However, Gotham’s attacking presence took control over the match.
USWNT’s Carli Lloyd had two shots on goal. One slow roller gobbled up by Betos at 14’ and another slightly wide at 27’ on the counter-attack. A third opportunity presented itself for the decorated veteran at 34’ but she was unable to make contact on the ball. It would have been a serious goal-scoring opportunity if she had gotten a solid touch to it. Nearing the end of the half, Hendrix made a great defensive stop to break up a Gotham attack by sticking out her foot and narrowly sending the ball off course. At 44’, Ekic showcased her fluid ball movement by driving the ball into the box and launching a shot into the keeper’s hands. The teams when into halftime without a goal registered but with Gotham looking to be the slightly more dangerous side.
Less than ten minutes into the second half, disaster struck for Racing Louisville. Fox went down injured and was subsequently subbed out of the match. Nealy Martin came in off the bench to replace her incapacitated teammate. Gotham nearly found the back of the net at 57’, when a lobbed pass found its way into Racing’s box. A Gotham attacker got a foot onto it but sent it slightly over the crossbar. About five minutes later, after a Racing defender stopped the first shot on goal, the loose ball found its way back to a Gotham attacker who took a shot. Betos made a diving save on the ball to preserve the clean sheet. Between 63’ and 73’, both teams made substitutions. Taylor Otto, Jorian Baucom, and Vanessa Kara entered the match for Olofsson, Yuki, and Ekic. At 83’, Betos tipped a Gotham shot over the bar. That would be the final notable sequence in the match before its conclusion as a 0-0 draw.
By The Numbers
Gotham FC led the match in both shots and shots on target but the real notable differentiator is the expected goals (xG). Based on the shots taken, Gotham’s xG was 1.2 compared to Racing’s 0.55. Gotham was the superior side in other statistical categories including possession, passing, and pass accuracy. Thankfully for Racing, none of that matters if the ball doesn’t find the back of the net.
Gotham FC vs. Racing Louisville XG Recap ⚽️
Gotham created some quality chances and probably enough to score a goal, but all that was needed to advance was a tie.
— NWSL Field of Vision (@NWSLFieldVision) May 3, 2021
— GameFlow (@GameFlowxPG) May 3, 2021
— Arielle Dror (@arielle_dror) May 2, 2021
On one hand, this was a great result for Racing Louisville. On their farthest road trip yet, the team went up against a red-hot Gotham side and came out without having let in a single goal. They weathered a storm and helped Michelle Betos get her first clean sheet with Racing. On the other hand, they could not create many offensive opportunities. There were no moments in that match that left one thinking “that should have been a goal!” There are players on the team that can score, they just couldn’t find their opportunities in this matchup. Coach Holly would later call the match their “worst performance of the Challenge Cup.”
Post-match, Coach Holly said, “I think the big thing is understanding that we’re going to have bad days where we genuinely don’t play well, and getting out of here with a point is good.” It’s the coach’s job to be a tough critic but there are positive takeaways in the match. Betos kept a clean sheet. Baucom continues to show that she is an explosive and dangerous player off the bench. Despite being the newer and younger team, they could go toe to toe with one of the better teams this season. The squad is learning and continuing to develop. Despite not making it out of the group in the Challenge Cup, it has been a promising start for this expansion squad. There is much to look forward to in the upcoming regular season.