Racing Louisville Held to a Draw Against the Kansas City Current

On Friday, Racing Louisville opened the Challenge Cup against the Kansas City Current. Racing drew first blood, but the Current was able to capitalize off a mistake in the back and draw even.

Kansas City started the match pressing hard and trying to break through Racing’s defenses early. This left Racing shaky and unable to hold possession through the first fifteen minutes. In the 20′, however, Cece Kizer charged from deep within Racing’s own half, passed to Jessica McDonald while continuing her run, and immediately received it back. Kizer was able to redirect McDonald’s cross into the back of a net with a single touch to put Racing on top.

The goal invigorated Racing and they were able to pick up the pace and maintain better possession. For the rest of the half, Kansas City had a number of looks, but only two really dangerous chances. First, when Kristen Edmonds took a shot from the top of the box that ultimately ricocheted off the crossbar. Second, late in the half, Victoria Pickett was unable to control a ricocheted ball and sent it off the near post.

The pace slowed down a bit in the second half. Kansas looked increasingly dangerous as the half went on and it ultimately paid off. Racing held off the Current until the 78′ when an errant pass from Gemma Bonner went right to the feet of Addie McCain who was able to find the back of the net. Even after Lynn Williams left the field due to injury and dropped Kansas City down to nine, Racing was unable to capitalize. In fact, they very nearly gave up another late goal that was barely saved by Bonner after Lund went to the ground.

By The Numbers

All in all, Kansas City had many more shots, although most were not particularly threatening. The Current ultimately had 24 shots with nine on goal. Luckily, Racing’s goalie Katie Lund was up to the task and made seven saves. Racing, conversely, continued their worrisome trend from last year of not generating enough shots. They had only eight shots total with only two on goal. Franch only needed to make one save all night.

What’s more interesting is that Kansas City got significantly more dangerous as the game went on while Racing did not. At the half, the Current had 12 shots with only three on goal. Racing had two shots with only one on goal. So Racing only gained one more shot on goal in the second half while Kansas City added seven shots on goal. That’s almost as many as Racing’s total shots taken.

Possession was also interesting in this game. In the first 20 minutes, Racing only had 40% possession but managed to end the half with 48%. They clearly came together after they scored. However, they ended the match in a slightly worse position with 46% to Kansas City’s 48%.

Looking at the possession and shot stats together, it seems Racing became too complacent in the second half. They sat back and defended instead of trying to build up their own attacks. As a result, they gave the Current way too many chances and ended up giving away the lead.

Passing accuracy was fairly even across both teams at 73% for Racing and 76% for the Current. Although these numbers are low, that is expected for two teams with a large number of new players.

What Worked

There were plenty of things Racing did well this match. They were able to adjust to the intense high press after a shaky start and score on the counter. They improved possession as the match went on. Although she gave up the equalizer on a bad pass, Gemma Bonner came back and made an amazing sliding save that kept the game level. Lund looked strong in goal and made a couple of excellent saves. Emily Fox also looked better than ever, if that’s to be believed. Unsurprisingly for last year’s league leader in interceptions, she had a couple of excellent ones this match, including one right off the feet of Lynn Williams. Emina Ekic got the start and looked stronger and more imposing than last year. Interestingly, she was more effective defensively as she made a couple of key clearances at pivotal times. And, of course, Kizer and McDonald linking up was a great development. Kizer looked solid and McDonald seems to be everything promised and more. After the match, Coach Björkengren praised both players and said of their goal, “It was the first time, but it won’t be the last time. That’s for sure.”

After being injured for most of last season, Addisyn Merrick was able to get the most minutes she’s had in over a year and, thankfully, she looked great. It’s unclear whether she’ll become the permanent centerback next to Bonner or whether she’ll go out on the wing opposite Fox. Either way, it’s good she is transitioning back so smoothly when Racing’s pool of defenders is so thin with only five defenders rostered.

Much has been made of how young Racing’s squad is, so it was no surprise that two rookies took the field. Both Jaelin Howell and Kirsten Davis made their debut as starters on Friday. Although both got off to a bit of a slow start, they were able to get more in the game as it progressed. Davis, in particular, came alive in the second half and ended the night with three shots – the most of any player on Racing. After the match, Jess McDonald said of Davis: “It’s very impressive for a rookie at her stature to be as good as she is. She’s only going to get better as she gets more and more experience… You saw toward the end of the game she started getting to the end line. I’m like, ‘Dude, this is what we’ve been needing from you.’ You can see the fire she has within her. It’s all about consistency coming from her and building that confidence.”

Howell had more of an uneven introduction to the pros. She held her own and made a few good stops, but it’s clear she still needs to acclimate to the speed and physicality of the professional leagues. Players can’t take second and third touches as they could in college. This is something Emily Fox also said she needed time to adjust to last season. As the game went on, Howell settled and became more visible and more involved on the pitch. She also took all of Racing’s corner kicks and looked very sharp in this area. This is a shorter preseason than usual and Howell missed two of about seven weeks to play in the She Believes Cup with the U.S. National Team, so she’s even less accustomed to playing on this squad than anyone on the roster. There’s no doubt she’ll adjust quickly as games progress.

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Jaelin Howell takes on KC’s Victoria Pickett / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

What Still Needs Work

Despite some things going right, there’s still a lot that Racing needs to work on. Offensively, the team still has trouble getting attackers to make runs forward into the box. It’s a good thing Kizer continued her run after passing to McDonald because no other players joined her. There were no other options for McDonald to cross to and so there would have been no one there to collect the ball had it missed Kizer. It would have been a turnover instead of a second chance. That’s a big problem. The number of shots taken was also far lower than it should be. Racing can’t score if they don’t take shots and they can’t take shots if they don’t get numbers forward.

Racing also had an issue with the midfield staying a little too stagnant and flat. They gave opponents too much space to make breaking runs forward which is dangerous considering how speedy Kansas City is. Positioning would have helped the attack, also. Howell and Freja Olofsson often stayed close to Kansas City players instead of moving into pockets of space that could have provided better passing angles. But a lot of grace should be given here because, as mentioned, this was Howell’s first professional match. This is also Olofsson’s first match in over a year as a box-to-box midfielder. Overall, she made some excellent plays and looked far more dynamic as an eight than she did as a six. So this midfield issue should correct itself as both players become acclimated to their new roles and each other.

Defensively, however, Racing had some issues that lingered over from last season. For the most part, Racing held off Kansas City because the Current couldn’t finish their chances, not because Racing stopped the efficiently. The Current had far too many chances and the whole team seemed complacent at times to sit back and play defense rather than to counter aggressively. In fact, the whole team just didn’t seem as willing to challenge Current players that aggressively. Kansas City attackers had too much space and time to line up take a shot instead of being put under pressure.

Overall, Racing was just too tentative. They were too passive in the attack and in the defense. Although they were able to kick back into action later in the second half, they need to find better consistency across all 90 minutes.

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Kirsten Davis takes on KC’s Kristen Hamilton/ Image courtesy EM Dash-USA TODAY Sports

“A Typical First Match”

All in all, this was a fast-paced, high-intensity match that was fun to watch. Afterward, Racing’s coach Kim Björkengren admitted that it was a fair result all things considered.

“It’s a typical first match,” said Björkengren. “You have 15 minutes when we play good then 15 minutes that are not so good and then back again.”

Forward Jessica McDonald agreed with Björkengren’s assessment and said that, overall, it was a fun game.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be perfect, so this was good for a first game, honestly.” She said that while Racing made some mistakes and had a lot of learning to do, getting a point in the first match of the season was satisfactory.

The fact it ended level should satisfy both teams. After all, the Current come back to tie it but Racing was able to hold onto the draw. And this is in spite of facing an offensive onslaught in the second half. Kansas City certainly looked like a stronger team than last year in this match. They were able to string together attacks effectively and their two big acquisitions, Sam Mewis and particularly Lynn Williams, played a central role in keeping their side competitive. The fact Racing played them to a draw is an indication that Racing has grown, too. Particularly with the acquisition of Jessica McDonald.

So far, McDonald certainly seems to be as good as advertised. She was easily one of the most dynamic players on the field and her leadership presence on the pitch was obvious. Her assist on Kizer’s goal also means that she now leads the league in assists in the regular season, the postseason, and the Challenge Cup. The magnitude of this achievement cannot be understated. It demonstrates just how effective she has been across all competition in the NWSL and hints at the impact she will likely have on this team.

Despite having plenty of things to work on, Racing looks to be in a good place. This is only their first match, after all. There are no major red flags that arose in this game. If Davis and Howell continue to grow, McDonald and Kizer stay sharp, and Merrick stays steady on the backline, the team will be significantly improved over last year. Additionally, all the things the team does have to work with – positioning, consistency, aggression – can only come with time. And, luckily, the Challenge Cup provides the perfect time for players to adjust ahead of the start of the regular season.

As McDonald said, Racing still has some learning to do, but they’re in a good place and should feel satisfied with this outcome. Many consider the Current likely to not just win the Division but to be contenders for the tournament final. The fact Racing met them head-on in the first match of 2022 shows that Louisville might be stronger than many assumed.

You can watch the replay of this match now on Paramount+

Bekki Morgan

Covering Racing Louisville on the Beautiful Game Network and the central NWSL teams on Co-host of Butchertown Rundown: A Racing Louisville Podcast. Find me on Twitter @bekki_morgan and my pod @ButchertownR.