“The Momentum Is In the Process”
Racing Louisville entered the April international break on an upswing. First, they drew the Chicago Red Stars 0-0 earning their first clean sheet since June 2021. Next, they earned a decisive 3-0 win against the Kansas City Current on the road. Now, after a two-week break, Racing hopes to keep their momentum going as they prepare to meet Chicago on Saturday night. This match will be Racing’s penultimate match of the Challenge Cup group stage and may decide whether they have a shot at making the tournament playoffs or not.
“Of course when you do good things you just want to keep going,” said Coach Kim Björkegren after practice on Thursday. Still, he said he’s sure the club can continue to put on a good performance even after the long break.
“For me, the momentum is in the process,” he continued. “We can see this team has had better and better performance and also better results. So the momentum will still be there, I’m sure about it.”
Midfielder Savannah DeMelo said it’s a process that’s been working. She said Björkegren started out by going back to the basics of soccer and they’ve been building on that as the weeks have progressed. Even if the process has been slow, she said everyone on the team is bought into the process and believes Björkegren will do what’s best for them.
“I just think it was the best strategy,” she said, “and it’s been working really well.”
And it’s hard to argue that this process isn’t paying off. Racing is already looking more cohesive than they did practically all last season. Although it’s still too early to tell if their good luck will continue, the fact they’ve won their first Challenge Cup match ever and earned two draws despite high player turnover and the addition of a new coach is a positive sign.
In Saturday’s re-match against the Red Stars, Racing will have their work cut out for them. Although Chicago has never beat Racing, they currently sit at the top of the standings in the Central Division. They are also coming off their own win against the Houston Dash, so they’ll be looking to keep their momentum going, too. And with this match potentially deciding Racing’s entire fate in the Challenge Cup, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
"𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙪𝙢 𝙞𝙨 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙘𝙚𝙨𝙨"
More from today's media availability ahead of #LOUvCHI. 👇
— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) April 14, 2022
Depending on how results pan out across the Central Division, this game could eliminate Racing from the tournament or possibly even rocket them to first place. Let’s take a closer look at all the possible scenarios and what they mean for Racing’s odds at winning the Central Division:
If Racing wins, they stay in contention no matter what happens in the Houston Dash/Kansas City Current match. If Racing wins and Kansas City loses, this would actually be enough to put Racing in first place in the division with eight points. Additionally, if Racing wins against Chicago with enough points, a draw between the Dash and the Current could also conceivably put them in first place through goal differential.
If Racing ties Chicago, things get a little dicier. In the event of a Chicago-Louisville draw and a Kansas City win, it will be impossible for Racing to finish first in their division. They will still have a shot at earning second place in the entire league but it will be a hard one considering all current second-place teams across all divisions already have more than Racing’s five points. If Racing ties Chicago and Kansas City loses or draws Houston, however, Racing still has a shot at first place.
If Racing loses to Chicago, they need to pray Kansas City doesn’t win. A Kansas City Current win alongside a Chicago Red Stars win would eliminate both Houston and Louisville from the tournament. Chicago and Kansas City would have 10 points each in this scenario and it would be impossible for either team to overcome them. If Racing loses and Houston wins, Racing will be in last place but will still have a shot at finishing second in the league, although this would, again, be a very slight chance.
In short, a win is, unsurprisingly, Racing’s safest bet. A draw or a loss may not eliminate them, but it certainly diminishes their chances greatly. As a result, Racing has a lot to fight for, but so do the other teams. And with matches across the Central Division being so even, either of these matches could be anyone’s game.
Game day can't come soon enough. 😆 pic.twitter.com/b26RGawqNN
— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) April 15, 2022
Hammering Out the Details
Despite these high stakes, everyone on Racing is optimistic about their chances against Chicago. Instead of being worried about losing momentum over the two-week break, players said they were pleased to have the time to refine their skills.
“It’s definitely nice to be able to work on some details when we have time, in between games, because usually, when we have games, it’s more based on the other team and what they’re going to do versus what we’re going to do,” said DeMelo. “But I think with some time in between games, we were able to focus more on us and how we were going to adjust.”
Captain Gemma Bonner agreed. “When you’ve not necessarily got a game on the weekend you can push a little harder in training. So we could push physically, but I also think we worked tactically as well and got a lot more repetitions in. Obviously, the vibe was great coming off the back of a couple of days off and getting the win we had. It was a little less pressure during the week, but definitely, the girls have put in an incredible amount of work in the buildup to this game, and I think we’ll be in a good place Saturday.”