Racing Lousiville’s woes against OL Reign continued on Saturday night when they squandered a two-goal advantage in the final ten minutes of their regular season match in Seattle to settle for a draw.
Wang Shuang opened the scoring by converting a penalty after a handball in the box was called in the box against Seattle. In the second half, Paige Monaghan scored a smart, head’s up goal after OL Reign defenders had stopped pressing in anticipation of a foul being called outside the box. The whistle didn’t blow, however, and Monaghan sent the ball past the unprepared opposing keeper to earn Racing’s second. This is the second time in three matches Racing managed to score a goal after their opponents stopped playing in anticipation of a whistle that never came. The fact they’ve developed a habit of not stopping the play until it’s finished and have profited directly, as a result, is probably the most positive development in the match.
The least positive developments were the fact that Racing’s typically stalwart defense gave up two goals in the final ten minutes of the game. In the 82nd minute, a header from substitute Veronica Latsko halved OL’s deficit. Only five minutes later, another header — this time off a corner kick — from Elyse Bennett tied up the match.
“In the end, they had two good chances and punished us for it and then it’s a 2-2 game,” said goal scorer Monaghan. “Unfortunate, and it doesn’t feel good walking away from that, but we have to keep pushing on. The only way is forward for us.”
The larger beats of this match were starkly reminiscent of their April 29th match against OL Reign when Racing went up by two goals in the first half only to give up two late and split points with Seattle. This has become a habit between these two teams as this was the fifth-straight regular season draw between them. Racing has never beaten OL Reign in the regular season, but the last time OL Reign beat Racing was in their first-ever meeting way back in July 2021. In both meetings in 2022, Racing charged back from a deficit to earn draws that felt like wins. The opposite has occurred this season and, as a result, this match feels like a loss more than anything.
“Obviously disappointed and frustrated to give up that win and those three points,” said midfielder Jordan Baggett, “but at the same time, I’m really proud of our effort and it’s a huge learning moment for us. We’ll go back and watch the film and learn from this.”
By the Numbers
Ultimately, this was a very low xG match for a 2-2 scoreline with Racing earning 0.91 xG off seven shots with four on goal and OL Reign earning 0.51 xG off 12 shots with four on goal. It’s important to remember that 0.788 of Racing’s xG came from Wang’s goal so Racing only earned 0.122 in the run of play.
Possession was almost equal between the two teams with Racing getting the slight advantage with 53%.
This was an extremely chippy game with lots of fouls and stops in play. OL Reign earned three yellows and Racing Louisville earned two. As a result of this chippiness and regular disruption in play, neither team had very good passing accuracy with Racing only earning 71.5%.
This wasn’t a particularly standout match statistically for any players on Racing. No one performed poorly, but no one performed outstandingly either. Individually, Jaelin Howell continued her streak of having the most duels (25) and duels won (12) of anyone on the pitch.
Hitting a plateau?
I’ve been hesitant to say Racing has been hitting a plateau because even with the draws against San Diego and the Washington Spirit, Racing was still pulling points regularly enough and, in the case of the game against the Spirit, rallying from behind to do so. After the loss to North Carolina last week and this disappointing draw against OL Reign, it does feel like Racing’s momentum is starting to flatten out.
This wasn’t an awful performance, but it was a fairly pedestrian performance in a must-win game against a top team with a depleted roster. OL Reign was missing a significant number of starters including Megan Rapinoe, Emily Sonnett, Sofia Huerta, Quinn, and Alana Cook, so if there was ever a game Racing should have won against the Reign, it was this one.
Of course, Seattle wasn’t the only team missing important players. Racing was missing Savannah DeMelo, Ary Borges, and Thembi Kgatlana — all starters who’ve consistently been some of the most dynamic players on the pitch for Louisville. Ultimately, the players who came in for the missing Racing players did a pretty good job on the pitch. Rookie Kayla Fischer who replaced DeMelo looked fine in her first regular season start and had two shots with one on goal. Jordan Baggett also did fine in the place of Borges and tied Howell for a team-high three tackles. And Monaghan obviously continued to show the value that she’s shown all season by scoring Racing’s second goal.
Still, it’s arguable that the spark that’s really shined in Racing has been lacking a bit in the last two games. Instead, this very much felt like a game from earlier in the season when Racing still didn’t know how to win matches. Like those earlier games, Racing started out on the front foot and played solid football only to get pressed on the back foot late in the game and become disorganized and flustered enough that their opponents can exploit the resulting cracks enough to tie the game.
Defender Abby Erceg has said numerous times that Louisville needs to find that belief in themselves that they can win games and as the season has progressed, Racing has shown that they have by finishing off multi-goal shutouts against Kansas City, Chicago, and Gotham. Even in this match, it doesn’t seem like mentality or belief was an issue for Racing. OL Reign came into the second half of the match aggressively and dominated play in the first 15 minutes. Even so, Monaghan was able to get that ruthless goal to put Racing up by two. And then Racing was able to hold OL Reign off until the final 10 minutes of the match when they suddenly coughed up two. So what happened?
Sunk from the (lack of) subs?
Of course, it’s impossible to point to definitively what happened in the final 10 minutes to break Racing down. There were mistakes made. Head coach Kim Björkegren said that the players needed to “sit together as a group a little bit better” and that’s absolutely true. In both goals, defenders were fairly sprawling, leaving pockets of space for OL Reign to take advantage. Ultimately, though, OL Reign was just more energized and more aggressive at the end of the match and Racing wasn’t and it cost them. And, in a trend that’s been seen before with Racing, one big reason for this could be a lack of effective substitutions to keep Racing on the front foot.
OL Reign also revamped their lineup by making five substitutions in the second half. Seattle made the first substitution when they brought in the eventual goal scorer Latsko in the 65th minute. Racing made their first substitution only a minute later when they traded in Kirsten Davis for Parker Goins. After that, OL Reign makes four more unanswered substitutions and score both their goals before Racing eventually makes their second substitution in the 90th minute — Emina Ekic for Wang — and this was after Carson Pickett was forced to make a tactical foul that, if not stopped, could have led to a third goal for Seattle.
If Racing was ahead two goals and getting bombarded by shots in the second half of the match, why did they only make two offensive substitutions with one coming so late? There’s no question that Racing’s midfield is depleted with the loss of Borges and DeMelo. And substituting center-backs is always dangerous. Still, Rebecca Holloway has played in the midfield before when Racing has tried to hold onto a lead. Julia Lester could have also come in and played on the wing or in the center and bumped up either Elli Pikkujämsä or Lauren Milliet.
These aren’t perfect alternatives to what was done, of course, and there’s no guarantee that substitutions would have made a game-changing difference. But all too often Racing has lost games or settled for draws because their tired starters are being matched against a nearly half-rotated opposing side. Often Racing waits until the opponent scores to make substantive substitutions which is often too late for them to stop the momentum from shifting or they make offensive substitutions when defensive ones would make more sense. It’s clear Racing is having a hard time holding off opponents late in matches and of course, there’s no obvious quick fix to this. Still, it’s worth questioning whether the bench and roster are being utilized in a way to give them the best chance possible in the final moments of the match.
With only eight games left in the season, Racing’s next matches have become absolute must-wins for the team. A weekend of somewhat surprising results means Racing will stay in eighth place once again. And while teams like the Orlando Pride and Chicago Red Stars did Racing a favor by beating teams in playoff position to keep movement up the table within reach, these teams below Racing are getting close enough that Louisville could easily drop low in the standings next week if they fail to get all three points.
As it stands, Racing has 16 points. Orlando Pride has the same number of points, but their -7 goal differential is keeping them below Racing. If Angel City wins on Sunday, they will also have 16 points, but their high negative goal differential should also keep them below Racing. So as disappointing as the draw on Saturday was, it did, at least, preserve Racing’s position in the standings by a hair.
Kansas City has also made a strong climb and now has 15 points. This is Racing’s opponent next weekend and they are on a hot streak, so it shouldn’t be the fairly easy match Racing has had against them so far this year. Key players have returned from injury and they’re only losing a couple of players for the World Cup. As huge a loss as Debinha might be, they still have plenty of strong attackers to fill in the gap, so they’ll be a formidable opponent for Racing.
If Racing wins this match, they could conceivably go up to seventh place if Houston loses or draws. However, if they lose, they could drop as far as 10th place, and with Angel City as their next regular season opponent after the Challenge Cup break during the World Cup, they could conceivably drop all the way to the bottom of the table with a second loss.
In short, Racing’s position has been steady, but it’s increasingly precarious. They have the ability to move considerably up or considerably down in these next two games. Racing will have the home-field advantage for both their next two regular season matches and playing at home truly has been beneficial to them with a 2-1-3 record at Lynn Family Stadium versus a 1-3-4 record away.
Still, with only three wins, Racing is tied for the fewest wins in the league. They need three points in these next games no matter what. While draws might be keeping them within shooting distance of a playoff spot, they’re not going to be able to keep treading water forever.