Racing Louisville comeback to steal all three points from the Kansas City Current

Racing Louisville came back from behind to score two unanswered to win 2-1 against the Kansas City Current on Friday night in a win that keeps their playoff hopes alive.

At first, Racing found themselves coming out on the back foot and conceded a penalty in the first 10 minutes after an attempted clearance by Abby Erceg ricocheted off of Jaelin Howell’s hand. Racing didn’t let this rattle them, however, and Erceg nearly found the equalizer only a few minutes later when she bodied in a cross. The goal was disallowed, however — it’s unclear if it was because it went off her arm or because it was offside, though — but Racing stayed with it and Elli Pikkujämsä brought things level with a shot through traffic only six minutes later.

“It feels amazing,” Pikkujämsä said of scoring her first-ever NWSL goal. “I was so excited – maybe everyone saw that…I got a nice and slow ball and I saw a little gap for a nice hard shot. That’s it, and then I needed to make sure it went in. I took my time and saw it went in, and then I ran my ass off.”

Racing kept the momentum up through the end of the first half and came out just as hot in the second as Paige Monaghan scored a world-class goal only a minute in. A beautiful ball from Kayla Fischer switched the sides of the attack near midfield and found Monaghan who drove forward, put the Kansas City defenders on skates, and drove a screamer of a goal into the top right corner in an incredible solo effort. This was Monaghan’s second goal in consecutive games.

Louisville continued to control the match through the rest of the half and earned a huge win that moves them up to seventh place in the standings and only a single point away from a playoff spot — pending the outcome of Saturday’s match between the Washington Spirit and sixth place San Diego Wave. This is the best possible position for Racing to be in heading into an extended regular season break during the World Cup and gives them the momentum they need to continue their excellent Challenge Cup performance in the meantime.

“I am extremely proud,” Racing coach Kim Björkegren said. “It was such an important game for us. … We talked about it and said, ‘We need to win today if we want to be a top-six team,’ so there was only one way to go.”

As a result of this win, Racing has completed their first-ever perfect record against an opponent in the regular season. If they win against Kansas City in August for their last Challenge Cup match, they’ll complete their first sweep of a team across all competition.

Celebrating Pikkujämsä’s goal / Image courtesy Chris Humphrey

By the Numbers

This was an immensely lopsided game in Racing’s favor by almost every metric. They dominated offensively in shots (26 to the Current’s six) and shots on target (nine to the Current’s three), touches in the opposition box (35 to 18), and final third entries (68 to 42). They dominated defensively in number of tackles (22 to 9) and tackles won (14 to 6) and also won 63% of all duels.

The one area they didn’t totally dominate was in xG with Racing earning 1.47 to the Current’s 1.24, but that’s a simple explanation. One, Kansas City had a penalty and that adds 0.79 xG when converted. So remove that and Kansas City only generated 0.45 in the run of play. Also, Monaghan’s goal only generated a minuscule 0.019 xG which demonstrates just how impressive it was.

Racing also held 55% of possession, but, during the match, appeared to hold even more. Their press was extremely effective during the course of the match and they often forced Kansas City to backpass or restart attacks due to

This match brought about a few season-best records for Racing. Namely, they took their highest number of shots all season with 26 total. Fischer and Wang Shuang also jointly hold the highest number of shots in a game (6) for the season as well. Additionally, this is the first game Racing has won after conceding a goal first all season. They have not won from behind since beating Angel City in September of 2022.

As frustrating as it is that Racing has given up multiple two-goal leads this season, fans might be surprised to find that Racing is now second in the league in points won from losing positions this season. They now have five which is only one less than the league-leading Orlando Pride who have six.

Key Takeaways

Making progress, but how much?

Roughly two-thirds of the way through the season, Racing is performing better than they have compared to any previous season, but to what extent?

Let’s start by looking back at the past two seasons to see where they were at roughly this point. This is, of course, a little awkward to do since 2021 had 24 regular season games and both 2022 and 2023 have 22, but we’ll do our best.

Fifteen games into the 2021 regular season, Racing had a 4-7-4 record and 16 points, and a 26.7 win percentage. They had earned their fourth win by their twelfth game but ended the season with a 5-12-7 record, 22 points, and a 20.8 win percentage. It took them until their 22nd game to earn their fifth win.

Fifteen games into the 2022 regular season, Racing had a pretty abysmal 2-7-6 record, 12 points, 13.3 win percentage. They did end the season with a slightly improved 5-9-8 record, 23 points, and a 22.7 win percentage, but it took them all the way until their last game to earn that fifth win.

Now that we’re 15 games into the 2023 regular season, Racing has improved to a 4-4-7 record with 19 points. They currently have a win percentage of 26.7%. This is pretty darn close to where they were in 2021. In 2021 Racing got to their fourth win faster, but they also had significantly more losses along the way. And clearly, by looking at their final standings, Racing would go through a very rough end of the 2021 season with a 1-5-3 record for their remaining games. In 2022, Racing started relatively well but then went through a disastrous 13-game winless streak before righting their ship at the very end of the season.

Looking holistically over these records, yes, Racing is playing better than they have previously. If they can avoid falling off the late midseason cliff as they have in previous years and keep earning points and, most importantly, get that fifth win as soon as possible, they’ll be unquestionably in much better shape than they’ve ever been. They might even be in a playoff spot.

Where Racing has truly improved, however, is in an area not shown in the standings or in win/loss percentages. Compared to past years, Racing has shown a marked improvement in goal differential. Right now, Racing has a +3 goal differential (19 scored, 16 conceded). After this same number of games in 2021, Racing had a -9 goal differential (13 scored, 22 conceded). In 2022, they had a -6 goal differential (16 scored, 22 conceded). Clearly, Racing is scoring more and conceding less than in past years. The only real problem is that they’ve so far not scored enough to turn enough of those draws into wins and that’s keeping them from being a bona fide playoff contender. Luckily for them, a real game-changer has just returned to the roster.

Nadia Nadim / Image courtesy One Shot Sports

The Doctor is in

In a huge boost to the latter part of Racing’s season, Nadia Nadim has been removed from the disabled list and received her first minutes in Friday night’s match. The legendary striker is the club’s top goal scorer with 10 goals in lavender over her two seasons with Racing. This is even more impressive when considering that she has never played a full season with Racing due to two consecutive ACL tears in 2021 and 2022. So, in short, if goal scoring is what Racing needs, Nadim is about as good an option possible.

Because she’s still coming back from a serious injury, Nadim’s minutes are still strictly limited and she was only cleared to play 10 against Kansas City. However, the NWSL is heading into a week-long break after this weekend followed by a three-week stint to close out group play in the Challenge Cup. There’s probably no better place for Nadim to build fitness back than in the Challenge Cup. By the time the regular season returns in mid-August for Racing’s match against Angel City, she should be close to or already healthy enough for a full 90 minutes.

As for what she’s seen from the sidelines this year compared to past years, Nadim says the improvements brought by new additions like Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett, and others have been huge for the team. She’s impressed by how many chances the team is creating, but she recognizes that the team needs help with finishing which is exactly what she can do.

“I’ve been loving the way we’ve played. Now we just have to be more decisive in both boxes, kill the game as we did today.”

When talking about her return to the pitch after Friday’s game, Nadim was emotional discussing the hardships she’s faced recently, including both her injury and the loss of her mother earlier this year. The striker said being able to reach the playoffs with Racing would mean everything and is currently “the only objective I have right now.”

“We’ve all worked very, very hard. We have the quality, we have the squad to be there and that’s the only thing we care about.”

Pure joy / Image courtesy Chris Humphrey

Looking Ahead

With more than a month-long pause in the regular season up ahead, Racing will now turn back to the Challenge Cup which resumes on July 21st when Racing takes on the Chicago Red Stars in Louisville.

Racing has won handily in both their previous meetings with Chicago in 2023 — a 2-0 win in the Challenge Cup and a 3-0 win in the regular season. Although they languished at or near the bottom of the table for much of the season, the Red Stars have been improving lately and pulled off consecutive wins against the San Diego Wave and Houston Dash in the past two weeks. Although neither win was particularly dominant — both were 1-0 victories and statistically very close — Chicago is not a team that should be underestimated.

The key for Racing will be to come out as confidently as they did against Kansas City. Racing played against the Current like they knew they could beat them and they did so for the obvious reason that they have beaten them consistently this season. Even after conceding a goal, Racing wasn’t disheartened. In fact, they only looked angrier and more determined to win and the Current couldn’t muster anything to equal Racing’s drive for the rest of the match. If they can play with this same level of spirit against the Red Stars, there’s no reason to believe that Racing can’t win this game. If they do, they will continue to be the only team in the league to maintain a perfect Challenge Cup performance.

For some time it seemed like the Challenge Cup was Racing’s only clear path to glory this season. Even with playoffs now only a hair’s breadth away from Racing’s reach, this tournament is still likely to be Racing’s best chance at hardware. Even so, if Racing can use these games to get a hot streak going in late July and early August and get Nadim back into top form just as the World Cup players start returning from the tournament, who knows how far Racing might go by the end of the season?

 

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.