Preseason: Racing Louisville vs. US U23s
Racing Louisville finished up the postseason tournament in Portland by taking on the United States U23s on Saturday night.
Racing got on the board first with a goal from Elli Pikkujämsä in the 14th minute. After a set piece clearance was collected, Milliet sent the ball back in and Pikkujämsä’s well-timed run allowed her to get a head on it and send it past Neeku Purcell, the U23 keeper. In the 24th minute, the U23s managed to find an equalizer in courtesy of UCLA’s Reilyn Turner. Racing found the game-winner in the 35th minute, however, after Savannah DeMelo’s sliding cross found Uchenna Kanu in front of goal. Kanu found the back of the net despite a hard challenge from Purcell that kept Kanu down for a brief moment. In the final minutes of the first half, Wang Shuang sent in a cross to find the head of Ary Borges who managed to knock in the goal despite getting hit hard in the face by Purcell. This second infraction earned Purcell a yellow.
Racing rotated heavily in the second half but managed to keep the score level despite the U23s bringing some serious challenges. Keeper Jordyn Bloomer, who subbed in during the half to replace Kelsey Daugherty, made some big saves including a huge kick save to keep the game level in the 71st minute. The match ended 3-1 with Racing securing their second win of the tournament.
This is Racing’s final preseason match before the start of the regular season and they should, once again, be happy with their performance.
The fact that they got three goals with each coming from a new acquisition definitely bodes well for Louisville. This was Kanu’s first start after only joining the team on Tuesday. She is likely going to be the centerpiece of Racing’s attack in the new season, so to have her already on the board – even in preseason – is a particularly good sign.
It’s also worth noting that Racing came very close to scoring at least a couple more goals. The scoreline could have easily been 4-1 or 5-1. Wang Shuang missed wide by inches in the first half and also hit the crossbar. Abby Erceg – who wore the captain’s band through the first half before handing it off to Lauren Milliet after being subbed off – also had a good chance, but her header off a corner kick went just over the bar.
Racing has, like all NWSL teams in the tournament, used this series to test depth. This includes rotating players to new positions. For instance, Borges and Pikkujämsä both played in the No. 6 role after Jaelin Howell’s injury against OL Reign on Wednesday. Rebecca Holloway also played in central defense and Satara Murray as an outside back which reverses the positions Racing fans have typically seen them in before. While the U23s were much more dangerous in the second half after heavy rotation, it’s a positive development for Racing to keep their opponents off the scoreboard in the second half for the second match in a row.
First #RacingLou finishes. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/wXxwnjI1N0
— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) March 19, 2023
Bloomer also had an excellent game in goal. She played aggressively, coming off her line confidentially to challenge opponents several times, and made numerous crucial saves to keep Racing up by two. With regular starting keeper Katie Lund completely out of this game, it was good to see some rotation in goal. Racing fans have only seen Bloomer once during the 2022 Challenge Cup in a match against Houston. Bloomer just returned to the team after an offseason stint in Australia’s A-League and she definitely seems to have come back sharp. This was Racing’s first time to see Daugherty in goal and she did well, making several good saves during the first half. It’s worth noting that Racing’s fourth keeper, Hillary Beall, is currently captaining the A-League’s Western United squad who are at the top of the table, and is a favorite to win the Grand Finals. The general consensus is also that Beall might very well win player of the year for the league, so competition is certainly tight amongst Racing’s goalkeeping corps.
U23’s Takeaways PreseasonRE
Once again, the U23s had a decent showing against NWSL competition. And this is particularly noteworthy because no NWSL players that might normally make a U23 squad were ineligible to take part which limited the squad to exclusively college players.
In particular, Eva Gaetino stood out with an especially strong defensive performance. She single-handedly shut down numerous Racing attacks and regularly used her height to her advantage in set pieces. Ayo Oke also stood out during her stint in the first half and Simone Jackson added a huge dose of energy and kept Racing on their toes after she was subbed. She was able to break through and challenge Bloomer at least twice one-on-one and it was only Bloomer’s quick reactions that kept the U23s off the board. Finally, Avery Patterson applied pressure well throughout the match and dispossessed Racing players several times in dangerous areas.
All in all, it was a solid showing for the young team and demonstrates that there will be no shortage of talent in the coming few years.
Racing Louisville (4-3-3): 31 – Kelsey Daugherty (46’ 24 – Jordyn Bloomer); 16 – Carson Pickett (76’ 23 – Trinity Watson), 20 – Abby Erceg (c) (66’ 44 – Satara Murray), 25 – Rebecca Holloway, 2 – Lauren Milliet; 4 – Elli Pikkujämsä (46’ 5 – Paige Monaghan), 7 – Savannah DeMelo (66’ 9 – Kayla Fischer), 8 – Ary Borges (46’ 3 – Zaneta Wyne); 14 – Jess McDonald (66’ 21 – Parker Goins), 29 – Uchenna Kanu (46’ 22 – Kirsten Davis), 77 – Wang Shuang (82’ 27 – Alex Chidiac)
U.S. WNT U23s (4-3-3): 12 – Neeku Purcell; 7 – Ellie Wheeler, 8 – Lauren Flynn, 19 – Eva Gaetino, 10 – Ayo Oke (c); 16 – Lexi Missimo, 17 – Sarah Weber, 22 – Annie Karich; 2 – Avery Patterson, 3 – Reilyn Turner, 15 – Payton Linnehan
OL Reign versus U23s – Saturday March 12
Racing versus Portland – Saturday, March 12
Racing versus OL Reign – Wednesday, March 22
Portland versus U23s – Wednesday, March 22
All photos courtesy of Taylor Vincent