Racing Louisville fell to the Houston Dash 0-1 in their last game in a packed August. This match was the last of five games in 15 days that started brightly with a win, two draws, and the first trophy in club history. The tough schedule clearly took its toll on the team, however, who dropped their last two matches of the month.
With this loss against Houston and last week’s against Kansas City, Racing falls deeper out of playoff contention. Sitting in ninth place, they’re now seven points out of playoff contention with nine games left in the season.
“We really needed results out of these past two games. That’s not a secret,” said midfielder Savannah McCaskill after the match.
While the recent results are frustrating, they are pretty much par for the course for expansion teams in the National Women’s Soccer League. No expansion team has ever made the playoffs in their first year. The Houston Dash have never made the playoffs despite being around since 2014. The Orlando Pride have only made the playoffs once during their second year in 2017.
Even with a tough schedule and the weight of history behind them, Racing’s players are still determined to fight. McCaskill said that the team’s goal is still to earn as many points as possible to get the team in the best position by the end of the season. And, although it’s a long shot, that playoff position is theoretically up for grabs.
“It’s still a long two months left,” said McCaskill. “You never know in this league. Who’s gonna drop points, who’s going to get points – it can come down to the very last game.”
Reverting to Old Habits
This game continued a worrying trend for Racing. Increasingly, they come out of the gates hard only to sputter as opponents adjust around the half. It’s easy to blame fatigue for this, but this is also what happened against Gotham and Chicago early on in their long string of matches. Teams seem to be adjusting to Racing, but Racing isn’t doing a great job of adjusting to them. Pacing seems to be a problem. Players expend all their energy in the first half and then get stretched in the second. If they can score first, that’s sometimes enough to force a draw, as it was against Chicago and Gotham. But if they don’t, they all too often end up shut out. This match against Houston marked the eighth time Racing has been shut out in 15 games.
Racing also seems to be falling back into old habits. Once again, players were playing beneath the ball too much. If a player managed to make a run into the final third, often she’d be left stranded with no options. And if multiple players do make runs, they take too many touches and passes and lose their opportunity. Consequently, the number of shots taken has fallen substantially. Racing only managed five shots total to the Dash’s 17. Michelle Betos once again came up big keeping the game only 0-1 when it could have been significantly worse.
As in the previous three matches, match density brought about a heavily rotated side. This rotation, along with the lack of Ebony Salmon up top, likely amplified some of these issues. While rotation is necessary and important for player development, it’s harder on a team that’s still building chemistry.
Of the changes, the most notable was Julia Ashley earning her first NWSL start. She had spent 2020 recuperating from a serious back injury with OL Reign.
“With all these games comes injury, comes people not being able to play on certain nights, and so my opportunity just came tonight,” said Ashley. “I just was talking to (Holly) right before this and I thanked him for the opportunity tonight, and he told me that I’d earned it. Every day I’ve been trying to do the right things to stay healthy, and it just happened for me tonight so I was excited about it.”
Ashley put in a solid performance at right back. It’s definitely a positive for Racing to know they have some solid depth in their defense.
Rest and Regroup
Racing only has six days to rest before their next match this Saturday against OL Reign. Still, that must feel like a lifetime to players who’ve played three out of five matches away with only about three days rest between them.
As always, it’s important to remember that first seasons are about learning and building more than winning. Of course, winning is the ultimate goal, but developing a stable foundation is far more important.
Even if August ended in disappointment, it needs to be remembered that it also included Racing’s most successful streak to date. They’d never put together back-to-back unbeaten matches before and yet they managed four unbeaten in a row, including the Women’s Cup. That’s something to be proud of. A couple of those draws should have been wins – particularly the match against Gotham – but the fact they were able to earn their most points ever in a month is a sign of progress.
Hopefully, some rest and a return home can lift Racing into a better performance against OL Reign this Saturday. While the Reign have been on a hot streak, they also lost to 10th place Kansas City not that long ago. Even if the game ends in no points for Racing, there are still numerous ways they can show growth. For one, pacing the game better. Not passing into traffic as much is another. And, of course, having more confidence in the attack to get more shots on goal.
As McCaskill said, while these last two games were important, there’s still another two months left. Racing has been full of surprises all season, so another win or two might still be in their future even if the playoffs are increasingly out of reach.