Who: North Carolina Courage (0-1-1) hosts Racing Louisville (1-0-1)
When: Friday, May 28
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, North Carolina / Live on Twitch
After winning their first game against the Washington Spirit last Friday, Racing Louisville moves on to face another tough opponent in the North Carolina Courage. In their last meeting during the preseason 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, the Courage beat Racing 3-4. After suffering a loss at home to Orlando on Saturday, the Courage are going to be hungry for some points.
Will Racing continue their winning ways? Or will the Courage stop them in their tracks?
That Winning Feeling
Racing has every reason to feel pretty good about themselves right about now. They’ve earned their first win just two games into their inaugural season. Their offense is looking more dangerous with rookies Emily Fox and Emina Ekic getting involved in the action. And, they seem to have shaken their nasty habit of giving up late goals by earning three consecutive clean sheets across all competitions.
Now that the purple smoke has cleared and the light show stopped flashing, Coach Christy Holly says the team’s ready to get back to business – even if they need to weather a few actual storms along the way.
“If anything, our training got harder today and the players didn’t shy away from it,” said Holly in a pre-game press conference, describing a rain-drenched practice session earlier that morning. “The tempo didn’t stop, and they didn’t complain about the rain. If anything, they turned it up a notch. That says a lot about where the focus of this team is at.”
“I couldn’t see past my nose and the players are asking for extra sets.”
Racing will need to keep that energy going as they prepare to head off to Cary because they have a tough task ahead of them.
Know Your Opponent
Since forming in 2017, the Courage have been a dominant force in the league. They won back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019 and earned a record three consecutive NWSL shields, which is awarded to the team with the best regular-season record, from 2017-2019. They would have likely had a good run at repeating these honors in 2020 had the regular season not been canceled due to the pandemic.
Holly didn’t mince words about what’s facing Racing on Friday night.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game. And if we want to get something from that game, we need to be able to put on our best performance.”
To add to what was already going to be a challenging matchup, a few key players have joined the team since the last time they faced off. Most notably, Sam Mewis, U.S. Soccer’s 2020 Female Player of the Year, has returned to the Courage after a stint abroad with Manchester City.
All signs point to Mewis being on the roster on Friday and Racing Louisville will need to be at their absolute best to beat one of the world’s top two-way midfielders. At six-feet tall, Mewis is dangerous on set pieces, so Racing will need to do better than last week when they gave up thirteen corner kicks to Spirit. Thanks largely to a phenomenal performance by goalkeeper Michelle Betos, Racing was able to weather that storm unscathed. But, no matter how talented the keeper, you can’t keep giving up that many chances and expect to make come out on top.
[NEWS] Sam Mewis Returns to North Carolina Courage
Highly decorated 3x NWSL Champion, 3x NWSL Shield winner and FIFA World Cup Champion returns from Manchester City.
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) May 17, 2021
Despite their storied history and a newly improved roster, the Courage have shown some signs of weakness. They lost several key players in the off-season including Crystal Dunn, who was traded to the Portland Thorns, and Abby Dahlkemper, who went to Manchester City on a two-year deal. These moves have shaken up the Courage’s defense in noticeable ways. Across their six games in 2021, they’ve given up ten goals across competition compared to Racing’s six. Although they’ve managed two 0-0 draws, they’ve given up multiple goals in each of the other four games. Comparatively, Racing has only given up more than one goal in two of their games.
Mewis’ rejoining will undoubtedly help strengthen the core of the team, as will defender Abby Erceg’s recent return from injury. Wales international Ahgharad James has also signed onto the team, but it’s still uncertain if she’ll be available for this match. These are certainly checks in the Courage’s favor, but whether they will be enough has yet to be seen.
Racing Louisville will have to be at their absolute best to get a result against the Courage. Their defense has been clicking, but with threats like Lynn Williams, Debinha, and Jessica McDonald on the field, they’ll have to take it to the next level. Racing gave up a team-high three goals (50% of all the goals conceded across all competition!) in their last matchup with the Courage. They’ll need to do better, especially considering Racing’s lack of consistent offensive production. Last week’s outcome was fantastic, but they still only managed three shots on target all game. They need to be bolder about taking more shots and find a way to connect better in the final third if they’re going to earn the win.
All in all, this will undoubtedly be the toughest match this young team has ever faced. Whether it’s another step towards glory or a quick, or a hard fall back to reality, there’s no doubt it’ll be an exciting matchup.
Make sure to tune in this Friday, May 28, at 7pm on Twitch. (It is a free app, so you have no excuses!)
In Case You Missed It…
— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) May 26, 2021
- Emina Ekic is the NWSL Budweiser Player of the Week. Congrats, Emina! This honor comes with some interviews you don’t want to miss:
- Listen to her interview Jeff Greer on Louisville’s ESPN 680’s the V-Show about her historic first goal and her life growing up in Louisville.
- Meg Linehan interviewed Emina about the game, her goal, her campaign to become Yuki’s best friend/the godmother of her future children, and much more on the Athletics’s Full-Time with Meg Linehan. (Stitcher) (Spotify)
- Forward Cheyna Matthews has been named to the Jamaican Women’s National Team’s preliminary roster for next month’s Summer Series, which includes a match against the United States Women’s National Team. Congrats, Cheyna!
- Racing Louisville has signed defender Sinclaire Miramontez after a successful trial with the team. She was signed after it was found that Taylor Otto’s knee injury will keep her out for a significant stretch of games, although the team is anticipating that Otto will be back before the season’s end. Welcome, Sinc!
- O Captain! My Captain! Michelle Betos spoke to WHAS11’s Tyler Greever about her role as Racing’s captain.
- United States Women’s National Team coach Vlatko Andonovski visited Louisville ahead of last Friday’s win against the Spirit and he had no shortage of praise for the club.