So Much Confidence
Racing Louisville continued their excellent run of form on Sunday afternoon when they shut out NJ/NY Gotham 2-0 at home. This is Racing’s sixth win in nine matches across all competitions and their third consecutive clean sheet. As a result of this win, Racing has kept the playoffs within striking distance with a sixth-place spot only three points away.
“It’s huge, and it keeps us up with our goal of going to the playoffs,” said Savannah DeMelo. “I think it puts us in a really good spot to keep growing and keep going. It’s motivational for us.”
DeMelo opened scoring in the 23rd minute when she capitalized off a loose ball and confusion in the box to put Racing ahead. This was DeMelo’s fifth goal of the regular season and her ninth career goal which ties her with Nadia Nadim’s record for the most in team history. Only seconds into the second half, Thembi Kgatlana combined with Kirsten Davis and scored the second and final goal of the night. This was Kgatlana’s first goal in Racing colors and her first since returning from a ruptured Achilles last July.
Head coach Kim Björkegren had nothing but praise for the South African striker and her performance on Sunday, saying, “She had a great game. I think she was the best player on the pitch, to be honest, so, of course, it helps her. She creates so many chances so to finally get a goal is of course important.”
For her part, Kgatlana said that this win and the fact new players are starting to score is a sign of just how far the team has come since the beginning of the season. “We got so many draws at the start of the season but it was because we were still trying to understand each other. We don’t depend on one person to score, it’s always different people…The different players that we have, there’s just so much confidence that whoever’s on the pitch is going to give 100%, whether you play five minutes or you play 90 minutes.”
All in all, this was another very complete, very consistent match from Racing Louisville. What’s especially positive is the fact that this was a match against a top-six team. It’s one thing to get a solid victory over a struggling side or one that’s heavily rotated for the Challenge Cup, it’s another to get it off a playoff contender. For the last month or so, the discussion around Louisville has been, can they beat a team that isn’t Chicago or Kansas City? Between Wednesday’s Challenge Cup match against Houston and this match against Gotham, the answer seems like a firm yes.
“We played with a lot of energy – overall the first half was one of the better of the season,” said Björkegren. “The second half was more about defending. In the middle of that second half, we were a little panicked but still well-organized in the defense. Maybe we can keep the ball in the team a little more – that’s my only thing – but we keep working hard, we have a good bench and we solved the problem.”
If there’s been one constant thread that’s gone through this entire season, it’s that Racing’s defense is top-notch. In their past five matches across all competition, Racing has earned four clean sheets. They’ve only given up a single goal while scoring eight. Goal scorers may get most of the attention, but they can only move forward freely when they know they have strong support behind them. Take it from Savannah DeMelo:
“I just think from Lo [Milliet] to Katie [Lund] to Elli [Pikkujämsä] who came in today, Abby [Erceg], Carson [Pickett], Julia [Lester] –I think they all do such a great job. Jaelin Howell and Ary [Borges]–huge props to the defense. It allows the attack to do what we like to do with a bunch of freedom.”
In particular, DeMelo had high praise for Milliet, saying, “I think Lo Milliet is just the smartest soccer player I’ve ever met. She’s someone that’s helped me throughout my rookie year into this year and I don’t think she gets enough recognition. I think everyone’s starting to know Lo Milliet is a badass.”
Milliet’s transformation into a rock-solid right-back is a clear bright spot in the brightest season Racing has ever had. She puts everything she has physically into matches and gets thrown to the group more than a few times each game. But she’s also technically savvy — and speedy — enough to run top attackers like Kerolin and Trinity Rodman off the ball. At the start of the season, the right side was clearly weaker than the left. That imbalance has increasingly disappeared now that the halfway point in the season has been crossed.
And with the somewhat unexpected call-up of their best player to the World Cup, Racing is going to need to lean hard on their defense to keep their momentum going.