It may have only ended in a draw, but the excitement of Racing Louisville’s first match against the Orlando Pride gave the new squad a bit of positive momentum, entering their second match. Hitting the road for the first time, Racing was set to take on the Washington Spirit. The Spirit lost their first match of the Challenge Cup against the North Carolina Courage but saw immediate returns on their decision to draft Trinity Rodman second overall in the 2021 NWSL Draft. With Coach Holly’s playstyle now known, this away encounter would be yet another big test for the young squad. Would Racing’s aggressive style hold against their next opponent or will their tactics be exposed?
Racing Louisville Lineup
If it’s not broke don’t fix it, right? Coach Holly opted to deploy the same starting eleven as the Orlando match. There were many positive performances and not much reason to deviate from that formula yet. Although the personnel remained the same, the formation shifted a bit. Rather than the 4-2-2-2 seen against the Pride, Racing opted to go with a 4-2-3-1 with Savannah McCaskill notably higher up the pitch than the first match. “Flexibility” was a keyword that had come up a lot with Coach Holly in the offseason and preseason.
Much like Louisville’s first match, they were the early aggressors. At 4’, Racing earned an early corner which was sent into the box and headed above the goal. An early warning shot. “I thought our first five, 10 minutes we put them on the back foot,” McCaskill said post-match. “In any game, if you can score first and score early I think that kind of sets the tempo of the game and helps you get ahead of it.” Despite Louisville’s heavy pressure, the Spirit was able to work the ball outside of the box at 14’ and take a shot on goal that went just wide left. About five minutes later was Racing’s best moment of the half when Emina Ekic channeled her inner Messi and danced around several defenders into the box but unfortunately could not send the ball into the net. Her fancy ball work showcased why she was selected top ten in the 2021 NWSL Draft. Ekic’s highlight moves were shortly followed by a scary sequence from Washington that ended in the ball flying just above the goal. These back-and-forth sequences continued for the rest of the half with neither side unable to find the back of the net.
With both teams hungry to find the scoresheet, it didn’t take long for the action to begin in the second half. At 48’, a Spirit free-kick was sent into the box and headed towards goal but was intercepted by Michelle Betos. Shortly after, an aggressive Cece Kizer won the ball from the defense who send a leading pass to Yuki. Yuki’s shot, unfortunately, went a touch right of the post. A brutal miss that could have changed the course of the match. A cross from Washington’s Rodman at 53’, narrowly missed her teammate in yet another moment that should have gone goal bound and shifted the match. While Racing remained aggressive and threatening, it was the Spirit who came out of the locker room with the more impactful change in play. At the half, Washington had five shots on goal and they would end the match with 18. In contrast, Racing only totaled four shots in the first half and four more in the second. One of those shots, at 64’, was another that could have been a difference-maker. The ever-threatening Kizer intercepted a lazy Spirit pass in the final third of the pitch and dished it out to McCaskill, whose shot hit the side netting.
The 70’ to 90’ minutes saw more back-and-forth pressure and a series of substitutions including Ekic, Freja Olofsson, and Kizer out for Katie McClure, Taylor Otto, and Vanesa Kara. Despite the even score line entering extra time, it still looked as if there might be a goal in the match. At 91’, McClure was nearly able to beat the keeper to a loose ball in the box. However, she was just a tad behind. The shot that broke the stalemate occurred at 93’. They sent a cross into Racing’s box and kicked towards the goal and off the fingers of Betos into the back of the net, putting Washington up 1-0. “I’m obviously exceptionally disappointed,” said head coach Christy Holly after the match’s conclusion. “You can’t afford to give away goals at the end of the game in the NWSL. If you continue to give teams opportunities, at the end of the game they are going to punish you. It’s a tough learning lesson for the team. We’ll take it on board and try to move forward.” Lauren Milliet was a bit more forgiving of the team’s results. “We are a new team, and there’s all this chemistry that’s been building so I think each game is an opportunity for us to learn and grow. I think that’s what we’re trying to take from each game. Yes, the loss is disappointing, especially in stoppage time, but we can always learn from it.”
By The Numbers
As previously mentioned, there was quite a substantial difference in the number of shots. Most of which came in the second half as you can see in the GameFlow visual. Thankfully, the difference in shots on target was not quite as lopsided. The Spirit was able to outperform Racing Louisville in both possession and pass accuracy as well.
Two matches in the books and both dramatically changed by goals after 90+ minutes. One favorable and one not so much. The squad has takeaways to work on (such as shot conversion), but; they showed a lot of fight and willpower to remain in the match. They were able to hold off a goal until extra time and that has to count as a small moral victory. All of this was on a five-day turnaround from the first match. With a bit more rest and preparation time, they may have been able to keep the match a draw (or better yet, bag one of the earlier shots to make it a win).
Racing In Review
Now that we have this team in action for two full matches, I have decided to get an expert’s opinion on what has transpired on the pitch. Casey Whitfield is a co-host on ESPN680’s Soccer City Radio and a former collegiate player at the University of Louisville. Having seen both matches, here is her analysis of the squad:
Two games in and already very impressed with what Racing Louisville has accomplished. Even though we have not had the results we may be wanting, there is so much more to celebrate!
Let’s start with the defense. Anyone who has watched at least five minutes of either game has been able to see the swarm-like defense Racing brings to the game. Their defense starts with their forwards. They press so high up the field and immediately apply pressure to the opponent’s defense; making it extremely difficult for teams to properly build-out of the back. If teams can beat the first round of pressure, then they are immediately met with the next line, the midfielders. Our three midfielders do an excellent job of positioning themselves and reading not only what the opponents are doing but also the movement of their teammates playing up top. This allows them to place themselves in passing lanes and pockets to either cut off the pass or apply immediate pressure when the first line is broken. Finally, you have the solid back line for Racing. These 4 have done an excellent job of keeping the game in front of them and remaining patient and poised when the opponent is running at them with the ball. All three of these lines of defense work in unison to make it extremely hard and exhausting to break them down.
Then you have the exciting offense for Racing. The extremely structured defense and the way these players position themselves defensively allows Racing to turn their opponent over in excellent places on the field. Racing then does a wonderful job of transitioning quickly and making dynamic, dangerous runs in and behind the defense. Since their positioning is so good defensively, it puts them in good places offensively for the counter, and the counter has been critical for Racing in these first few games. While we have done very well with generating the counter and creating solid chances, our next step would be to capitalize on these chances. In my opinion, this is the area we need to improve upon. The NWSL is an extremely competitive league, and we are not going to get a ton of opportunities. We need to work on being composed and confident in the final third. This will come with time and with playing more games, so we as fans need to be patient. This will come.
Finally, what is most important, is the amount of heart and passion these women play with – it is inspiring. I can say with complete confidence that every player on this team plays like they have something to prove and wants to be there and wants to win championships. The team has a ‘never die’ mentality and fights until the end. Seeing this excites me for everything this team is going to accomplish this season. I think we can expect them to always give it their all and never back down from a challenge. This also sets up a very exciting brand of soccer that is not only going to lead to some upsets throughout the seasons but will also attract fans from all over to want to watch.
This team is full of untapped potential and I can’t wait to see what all Racing Louisville accomplishes during its inaugural season!
Racing Louisville will be back in action on Monday 04/26/2021 to take on the NC Courage in Louisville. Be sure to join in on the fun at Lynn Family Stadium or tune in on Paramount+!