More Than a Win: Racing Louisville Rises to the Occasion in 5-1 Statement Win Over Utah Royals

Golly, Golly, Golly Racing Lou

With four ties to start the season and a record-breaking crowd on hand for their Thunder Over Louisville tie-in, Racing Louisville knew that their Saturday night match against the Utah Royals was a must-win. After four frustrating draws, this team was stepping onto the biggest home stage they’d ever played on. They were set to play in front of thousands of new fans who had never seen Racing and who could easily walk away and attend the simultaneous Thunder air show instead if the game turned sour. They needed to rise to the occasion more than they ever had before and, boy, did they ever.

“We knew we’d have so many fans here, and we just really wanted this for the whole staff, for the community, and I think we just put on a show,” midfielder Savannah DeMelo said. “I’m so proud of the girls.”

Racing Louisville soared past the Utah Royals 5-1 in front of a record home crowd of more than 11,000 fans on Saturday night. The scoring started with Uchenna Kanu getting a first-half header off of a perfect cross from Lauren Milliet. Although the Royals pulled one back and equalized in first-half stoppage time, Racing came into the second half stronger than ever seeing Savannah DeMelo score her first career regular-season brace, and rookies Reilyn Turner and Emma Sears score their first professional goals.

“It feels amazing,” said head coach Bev Yanez after the match. “It feels amazing for this group. They work so hard every single day to be the best that they can be and to be able to have this breakthrough, obviously, it’s something we’ve really wanted and we’ve been yearning for. Having that here at home in front of a record-breaking crowd is the most special moment for all of us.”

Speaking of firsts, this was also Yanez’s first win ever as a head coach which meant she spoke to media drenched in water and Gatorade from her celebrating players. Her players said that as important as winning in front of the record crowd was, winning for their coach mattered, too.

“I think I can speak for all of us, we want to win for her. She’s such an amazing coach,” Sears said. “The feeling is one we’ll never forget as a team and she’ll never forget, and hopefully we can just keep riding the wave.”

In so many ways, this match is more than just a win for Racing Louisville. The scoreline, the setting, the crowd, how they won it — all these things individually would make the game a standout, but taken together, give it potential to make it one of the biggest moments in Racing’s short history.

Bev Yanez gets doused by her players to celebrate her first win as a head coach / Image courtesy Jordan Prather and the NWSL

By the Numbers

To start, Racing has never scored five goals in a match and never won by a four-goal margin of victory. It stands to reason then that Racing has never had four different goal scorers in a single match before either. They’ve also never started a season undefeated through five games. They also scored three goals in the final 15 minutes of the match which is more than any other National Women’s Soccer League team this season.

Racing utterly dominated xG with 4 to the Royals 0.67 overall. Unsurprisingly, Racing was significantly more accurate with 10 out of 18 shots on frame to Utah’s two out of 10. Louisville created a total of six big chances compared to zero for Utah. The home side also had 25 crosses compared to eighth for the Royals.

Possession was for all intents and purposes dead even with Racing ending with 50.1% overall. This is Louisville’s best possession all season. Their passing accuracy was a hair over 81% as well which is one of their best showings all season.

Defensively, Racing won 75% of the aerial duels with Taylor Flint and Reilyn Turner leading both teams with three each. Louisville players won possession in the final third 10 times with Emma Sears, Taylor Flint, and Uchenna Kanu all winning it there twice. Comparatively, Utah only won possession in the final third once all game. Racing players also one 15 tackles compared to the Royals 11 with Taylor Flint (5) and Jaelin Howell (4) taking top honors. Finally, Racing won 26 interceptions to Utah’s 11 with Lauren Milliet (8) and — stop me if you heard this before — Taylor Flint (6) leading both teams.

Uchenna Kanu remains neck-and-neck with Kansas City’s Tema Chawinga for the Golden Boot. Both have four goals on the season, but Chawinga currently leads with two assists.

Savannah DeMelo didn’t just earn her first regular season brace, she also surpassed Nadia Nadim as the club’s all-time leading goal scorer with 11 goals. She’s also only the second player in Racing history to reach double-digit goals.

Key Takeaways

More Than a Win

In so many ways, this match is more than just a win for Racing Louisville. To start, just look at all those firsts: first goals, first braces, first five-goal game, and first win for Yanez. The fact Carson Pickett and Marisa DiGrande earned their first assists in lavender hasn’t even been mentioned yet.

The 5-1 scoreline in itself would be a headline for Racing as well, especially, after kicking off the season with four draws, but the fact they did it at home in front of a record crowd makes it even better. This was a stage and a setting that was only coming once for this team. Thunder Over Louisville, the official kickoff to the Kentucky Derby and one of the most popular annual events in the entire city made this game a showpiece. It meant thousands of new potential fans in attendance. And because Thunder is an all-day event and attendees had wristbands to come and go from the stadium at their leisure, it also meant a bad game could have seen an exodus from the stadium to go do some of the many other things happening along the Waterfront that day.

Instead, Racing kept fans glued to their seats with their performance. To not just earn a win, but such a statement win in front of this audience is a potential game-changer. If even a fraction of those first-time fans come back and see them again, it’ll be a significant boost for a team that’s struggled with attendance. Even if they just tell their friends and family what a great time they had, that’s increased exposure beyond what they’ve had before.

More important than any attendance records or firsts, however, is how Racing won this match. They made significant progress in areas that they’ve struggled in all season from possession to finishing chances to learning to close out a match. Yanez has said all season that building a team is a process and definitely and without question Louisville has shown they’ve made steps in that process. They showed resilience and grit and put together the most dominant team win in club history.

Emma Sears jumps on Reilyn Turner after Sears puts Racing up 5-1 / Image courtesy Chris Humphreys

Team Goals

A game with four different goal scorers including two first-time rookie goal scorers, a player who becomes the club’s all-time leading goal scorer with her first-earned career brace, and a Golden Boot contestant is pretty cool. But what really made these goals special is how they were scored.

Both Kanu’s and Turner’s goals were headers that came off of crosses after teammates found them at the back post. For any other team, this might not be a big deal, but for three straight previous seasons Racing has failed to send enough attackers in the box, and the far post was all too often left wide open. The team would work hard to get the ball forward only to send crosses into the box and find nobody home. This was particularly atrocious last season after acquiring Pickett and failing to utilize her pinpoint accuracy in sending balls into the box adequately. Milliet has shown she can also send in phenomenal crosses, so finally having players in position to take advantage of deliveries from both outer backs is a critical step forward.

Speaking of not sending enough attackers into the box, Racing also has a history of only having one or maybe two attackers making runs together and not timing them correctly. This often left single attackers against multiple defenders with no chance of rebounds possible. For DeMelo’s first goal, Elexa Bahr made a fantastic run into space and made a shot that was initially blocked by Utah’s keeper. DeMelo was coming in hot behind her, though, and collected the rebound before Royals defenders had a chance to even think and blasted it into the back of the net.

Finally, as commentator Mike Watt said during the broadcast, “Sears has everything.” Emma Sears didn’t just score, she earned the penalty that got DeMelo her brace. Sears’ goal, however, was about as brutal a final dagger as one can land. After receiving the ball from DiGrande just past midfield, she used her incredible speed to fly past Utah defenders and take it all the way herself to send it into the top netting. It was a fearless performance for a rookie and, just like Turner, shows that Sears may already be a big part of Racing’s future.

All in all, these goals are important because they’re mostly all different and they all showcase things Racing needed to do more of. These are all definitive steps in the process Yanez keeps talking about. They’ll need to keep them up against stronger teams, of course, but the fact they’re happening now shows that the team is learning and changing their behaviors and, best of all, being rewarded for it immediately.

Elexa Bahr jumps on Uchenna Kanu to celebrate Kanu’s goal / Image courtesy Jordan Prather-NWSL

Looking Ahead

Even early in the season, it’s hard not to rate this as Racing Louisville’s most important win ever. It’s one of the first times the team was ever truly, unquestionably dominant and they did it in front of a record crowd with jets flying overhead. Of course, it’s fun now to think about F-16 Vipers doing maneuvers over the stadium while DeMelo scores, but if Racing hadn’t risen to the occasion this game could have been catastrophic for the club. This was a team that needed a win and needed it in front of this crowd in this stadium during this event and they more than rose to the occasion. Fans didn’t have to wait for the famous Thunder fireworks to start, Racing started them early in Lynn Family Stadium.

Racing will be looking to take their momentum to the northeast to take on reigning league champion NJ/NY Gotham FC next week. Gotham has had a somewhat rough start to the season and heads into Sunday in 11th place with a 1-2-1 record while Racing sits in 5th with a 1-0-4 record. Coming off of a frustrating 2-0 loss to the Washington Spirit, Gotham will be looking to get back on track at home against Racing and with the likes of Lynn Williams and Esther Gonzalez providing firepower, Racing will need to put on a complete defensive performance to shut them down.

It’s worth remembering that Gotham and Racing have met already this year during preseason in the Women’s Cup where Gotham clobbered them 3-1. Racing couldn’t hold any possession and get any momentum going in that match. Will they be able to show how much they’ve learned and how much progress they’ve made next week? Tune in on Sunday, April 28th on NWSL+ to find out!

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.