Highs and Lows: Racing Louisville opens with a 2-2 draw against Orlando

History Repeating?

We’ve been here before. A two-goal lead gets chipped away and ends in a 2-2 draw late in the game. Dropping these early leads seems to be something of a curse for Racing Louisville after last year, and many fans are probably wondering if they’re in for more of the same this year.

On the surface, yes, it’s frustrating to see Racing drop a lead in their opener against the Orlando Pride on Saturday afternoon. It’s even more frustrating that Racing dropped the lead on a set piece in the 86th minute despite having the numerical advantage after the Pride’s Kylie Strom received a second yellow card in the 62nd minute.

Still, there are enough bright spots that Louisville fans shouldn’t be worried — yet. Between the team’s energy, the goals scored, and who scored them, there’s a lot to be excited about. There’s also the fact that this is a team with a new coaching staff and a lot of new faces that will take time to mesh.

“Obviously, we wanted to walk away with three points,” head coach Bev Yanez said after the match, “but I want to acknowledge how hard the group worked, and I told them from the get-go it’s not going to be perfect on day one, but our effort is controllable and I thought we controlled that very much so today.”

By the numbers

Overall, this was a fairly evenly matched game. Possession ended almost even with Racing slightly lower at 48% overall. The Pride were ultimately the slightly more dangerous team with an xG of 1.13 to Racing’s 0.71 and nine shots to Racing’s eight.

Racing had a passing average of 80%. This is solid considering Yanez is clearly directing the team to build up from the back and Orlando is a dangerous team in transition.

In less positive news, there were a lot of cards in this match for Racing’s midfield. Taylor Flint was forced to make a professional foul in the third minute to stop an onrushing Adriana. Savannah DeMelo also got one before the first half was done. Second-half subs Jaelin Howell and Kayla Fischer also earned cards later on. Orlando’s Luana also got a yellow in addition to Kylie Strom’s double yellows.

Uchenna Kanu after her goal / Image courtesy Jordan Prather-NWSL

Key Takeaways

Taking their shots

How about that offense? Fans were worried knowing Ary Borges and Kirsten Wright were out or questionable, but within just a few minutes those worries were put to sleep. Uchenna Kanu, Reilyn Turner, and Elexa Bahr weren’t just great, they were fantastic. There was a degree of confidence and sharpness in the attack that was lacking before. First, a beautiful ball from Turner to Bahr led to Bahr chipping the keeper in the 13th minute. Next, Kanu’s head’s up play kept her just onside to collect a ball from Bahr to send it in low beyond the reach of Orlando’s keeper to earn Racing’s second in the 19th minute.

Considering that Turner is a rookie, Bahr is making her National Women’s Soccer League debut, and Kanu is coming off a disappointing 2023, seeing these players not only connect this well this quickly but play with such confidence is something to be excited about. These weren’t fluke goals or opportunistic goals, they were smart plays and great reads of the situation at hand which bodes well for Racing’s attacking future.

Although she didn’t score, rookie Emma Sears came in late as a substitute for Turner and earned a team-high three shots. She injected a solid amount of energy into the attack upon arriving and looked like another solid weapon in Racing’s arsenal.

Mistakes…for now

One of Racing’s issues on Saturday was that they were playing without a true No. 6 for much of it. Taylor Flint was in that role, but she’s not a natural No. 6 and it showed through no real fault of her own. Jaelin Howell was subbed in during the 66th minute and looked solid, so, hopefully, she can move back into a starting role and the midfield can settle. The intention has always been to have Flint and Howell play next to each other with Howell as the true defensive anchor and fans just haven’t really had the chance to see that in action yet.

As for the rest of the defense, they were fine but depending on how you look at it, two moments of bad luck or two mistakes led to both goals. The first goal was an own goal from Elli Pikkujämsä after she struck her leg out on a corner while facing the goal and deflected the ball into the net. The second was more baffling. Orlando earned a set piece in a somewhat dangerous area well outside the box in the 86th minute. The ball was sent in and flicked on and Summer Yates was just able to stay on sides and put it into the back of the net.

Both of these goals are hard to judge. Should Pikkujämsa have just let the cross fly and not tried to deflect it? She wasn’t directly in front of the goal, but it’s always dangerous to try and deflect a ball while facing the net. For the second goal, did Flint and defender Abby Erceg block keeper Katie Lund’s view of Yates so she couldn’t react in time? Did Racing underestimate the danger of such a distant set piece and get burned? Both cases can be chalked up to bad luck, but the team will have to be cleaner to keep these chances from happening in the first place. They gave Orlando far too many opportunities to score and eventually, those chances paid off.

Captain Abby Erceg speaks during the Racing Louisville huddle / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

Finding their style

Ultimately, it’s clear that this is a team that’s still finding their style and finding their chemistry. When they took the two-goal lead, Racing sat back in more of a mid-block and let Orlando take a little too much control of the game. That led to the first goal. They ultimately corrected this, but by the end of the second half, they still gave the Pride — a team down to only 10 players — too much possession and they were able to draw a foul and earn the equalizer off of a set piece.

Racing wants to be a possession-based team but it’s clear they’re not there yet. It’s clear they want to be a team that builds out of the back and scores off the build, but that still needs some work. And that’s fine. They shouldn’t be in perfect form for the season opener with new players and a whole new coaching staff. What’s positive is that there are a lot of things that are working. The offense is clicking and players across all positions seem confident in their roles. It might not be perfectly executed and players got pulled out of position at times, but they didn’t fall out of formation as much as they have in the past.

So while this wasn’t a perfect match and the late equalizer was a blow, the sense of what Racing wants to be is there. There’s a purpose to the team that’s evident and looks like it could be very dangerous if it all comes together. More importantly, this isn’t a team that looked like it panicked and fell apart after taking the lead or was afraid to win. They weren’t left scrambling to hold onto a draw. That’s very different than games like the Angel City 2-2 draw or the OL Reign 2-2 draw last year. On Saturday, Racing looked like a team that just hasn’t fully gelled yet and it’s still early enough in the year that they’re allowed that grace.

Goal scorer and player of the match Bahr said the team knows they have work to do but she, for one, is fully confident in the direction of the team.

“We have so much to improve on, and even though we do have a lot of new players, a new coach, a new staff, I think everybody just has the confidence and the mentality that we’re going to be the underdogs if we need to be, but we’re going to show it and give it our all every single game.”

Looking Ahead

Racing has a tough road stint ahead of them with games in Houston and Portland before returning back to Louisville in April.

Racing will take on the Houston Dash next Saturday and Houston will definitely have something to prove after a punishing 5-1 loss to the North Carolina Courage this week on the road. There’s no question they’ll be looking to right the ship in their home opener against Louisville. This match will be broadcast on NWSL+.

Next, Racing will head to Portland the following Saturday to take on the Thorns. The Thorns also faced a tough opening match and lost 5-4 to the Kansas City Current so they look both vulnerable and dangerous which will certainly make for an exciting and wild ride. This match will be broadcast on Ion which is available on most cable packages, with a digital antenna, and via Tubi on Roku or Apple TV.

Bekki Morgan

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