Despite creating significantly more chances and scoring opportunities, Racing Louisville fell 2-1 to the North Carolina Courage on Saturday night. This loss ended two important streaks for Racing. First, their at-home unbeaten which went back to the end of last season. It also ended their three-game consecutive win streak across all competition.
“We can’t hang our heads,” said captain Jaelin Howell. “Obviously we were on a high coming in on a three-game win streak. That was huge for us. That was huge for the club. But like I’ve said, even when we were winning, it’s still early in the season. It’s still early now. It’s important we bounce back. … I’m confident we’re going to do that.”
As a result of this match, Racing will stay in 8th place in the standings for another week with their overall 2-3-4 record and 10 points. Although the Orlando Pride share 10 points with Racing, Racing’s positive goal differential is keeping them ahead. If Angel City and the Orlando Pride had not also lost, Racing would have possibly dropped to 10th, so they’re lucky to stay as high as they are.
While Howell is correct, that it’s still fairly early in the season, Racing will have to start getting points if they’re going to stay in the running for a playoff berth. The top teams are starting to pull away from the lower half of the table and, as a result, the best Racing can do next week is move up one spot to seventh and that’s dependent on Racing winning and Houston either losing or drawing. If they don’t win, they could drop as far down as 10th place, so games are increasingly becoming must-wins.
All in all, this wasn’t a bad match from Racing, however. They came out slightly tepid and didn’t press well initially, but pulled it together and, defensively, shut out North Carolina in the first half. The first goal was deeply unlucky for Louisville because it was a header scored from an absurdly tight angle. The second was simply getting beat in transition which isn’t good, but is the risk that comes with the high-pressing style they play.
The fact Racing was able to pull back a late goal off a header by Jordan Baggett and create some decent threats to tie it was positive. This is the first loss this season that they didn’t get shut out. Still, North Carolina was the team directly above them in the standings. If they’re going to make the playoffs, they need to beat the teams that sit above them as well as just below them. Especially when, as in this match, they created more than enough chances to do so.
By the Numbers
Racing has not had the best history against the North Carolina Courage, to put it lightly. In fact, Racing has never won or drawn them, they’ve only lost to the Courage and suffered through two games when the Courage scored five goals on them as well. As frustrating as it was to lose to them again, Racing statistically put together the best performance they’ve ever had against North Carolina on Saturday.
As illustrated in the chart below that shows goals scored and xG generated in every Louisville v. North Carolina match-up ever, Racing has never had a higher xG than the Courage until Saturday’s match. They’ve also never held the Courage to less than 1 xG until Saturday’s match, so this was a noticeable improvement.
Throughout the entirety of the match, in fact, Racing created more chances. Racing had three big chances to the Courage’s zero. They had more shots (LOU: 17; NCC: 13) and shots on goal (LOU: 6; NCC: 5). They had significantly more final third entries (LOU: 64; NCC: 48) and won possession in the final third 12 times to North Carolina’s nine.
So statistically, Racing should have won this match. Even with the Courage holding more possession (LOU: 44%; NCC: 56%), Racing beat them in transition enough or won the ball in dangerous areas enough to have scored at least a goal. This really underscores Racing’s biggest problem: They’re missing too many chances.
— Arielle Dror (@arielle_dror) May 28, 2023
Halfway through the first half of Saturday’s game, Paige Monaghan stood right at the corner of the six-yard box with an open goal in front of her and the ball at her feet. Instead of scoring, she rushed and mis-hit and sent it into the side netting. If Racing had scored here, there is no question the trajectory of the game would have changed. It might not have been a win, but if everything else stayed exactly the same, it would have been Racing’s first draw against the Courage. If it gave Racing enough momentum, it could have been their first win versus North Carolina.
This isn’t to pick on Monaghan at all. It’s just that in a game filled with missed chances, this was the most heartbreaking. Kirsten Davis and Wang Shuang also missed close shots from the top of the six-yard box in the first half and Ary Borges missed one from inside the goal area halfway through the second half. All these are to show that Racing had more than enough opportunities to win this game. They just couldn’t finish.
What Racing is missing − and has frankly missed for most of its history − is a truly clinical No. 9. When Nadia Nadim has been healthy, she’s served that role quite well, but the problem is that she hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Between Uchenna Kanu, Wang Shuang, Monaghan, and Davis, however, this should not be as big a problem as it is. All these players − and the whole team, really − are creating chances, but they have not been able to finish them regularly enough for Racing to be dominant. Defensively, they’re unquestionably better. The midfield is unquestionably better. Katie Lund remains as reliable as ever in goal. On the forward line, Racing is getting enough crosses out and they’re sending running into the box better than they ever have. They just cannot finish clinically.
Of course, the fact they’re finally getting shots off consistently is a great trend compared to last year and the year before. But Racing is getting far too many shots on frame and creating far too many chances not to be getting more goals. As mentioned before, the top teams are starting to break away from the bottom teams in the standings. If Racing doesn’t start scoring more goals, all the positive trends and growth in the world won’t outweigh the fact that Racing will be missing out on wins that they are doing enough work to deserve.
One of the bigger positives of the night for Racing is the fact that they adjusted well to the game as it played out. In previous matches, one of Racing’s biggest issues is that they could not adjust to games when they went off-script. We saw this in both the Angel City and OL Reign matches where Racing went up two and ended up settling for draws.
In their recent three-game winning streak, Racing essentially dominated all the matches and the other team could barely get a foothold. Even in the Challenge Cup match against Kansas City, the 3-2 looks closer than the match actually was.
On Saturday, Howell said that Racing got a bit of a slow start because North Carolina came out tactically in a way they didn’t anticipate. Even though the Courage dominated possession in that half, Racing had far better chances and clearly figured out how to adjust to what North Carolina was throwing at them. Even in the second half, neither goal scored against them was really the fault of North Carolina outplaying Racing. The first goal was at an absurd angle and the second was in transition, which is the great risk of employing the high press. The high press is high risk and high reward. Kerolin’s goal was the risk, but as discussed above Racing had more than enough chances to be rewarded, but just couldn’t finish them.
Even so, seeing Racing figure out how to adjust on the fly to a historically strong team is a good sign. It shows that they are learning together and feeling more confident. Now how much they’ve learned will be put to the test when they head off on a two-game away stint in the coming week.
There was a lot of talk ahead of this match about what it would mean for Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett to face off against their former team and for Emily Fox to return to Louisville. Was a reinvigorated Fox going to actually score on Louisville? Or would Pickett who has been taking an increasing number of shots herself score on North Carolina? Would Erceg get a set-piece header past the defenders she once stood next to?
As exciting as these storylines may have been, they ultimately amounted to not much more than a fairly typical game for all three players. Pickett had a particularly good game with five interceptions and three clearances and Erceg had three interceptions herself. Fox only had one interception, but won two out of her three tackles. Fox and Pickett also took a shot each, but neither was particularly dangerous.
Part of the reason the game was less dramatic for Erceg and Pickett is that North Carolina controlled most of the possession and, as a result, smartly avoided going down Racing’s left flank which features Pickett and Erceg, and instead went down their own left flank (Racing’s right) which featured Kerolin and Emily Fox on their side. As a result, it was Lauren Milliet who really had a standout game. She stymied Kerolin constantly and won four of her six duels. She also earned an assist by sending in the cross on which Jordan Baggett scored. Although she was only there a short time, Milliet is also a former North Carolina product herself having been drafted there in 2019, so maybe there was a hint of revenge from a former player in an unexpected area after all.
Racing has another midweek Challenge Cup match coming up on Wednesday. This time, they take on the Chicago Red Stars in Chicago.
When these two teams met previously − a mere three weeks ago in their first regular season meet-up of the year − Racing earned their first win in a 3-0 thumping of the Red Stars. Since then, the Red Stars took a hard 4-0 loss against Portland where they gave up three goals in quick succession in the first half and the fourth in the early minutes of the second half. After that, they seemed to have figured defense out and held the Thorns off.
Most recently, they’ve ended their three-game losing streak to win 1-0 against Orlando. To understand how that match went, look at the below shot chart from NWSL Field of Vision on Twitter.
Chicago vs. Orlando xG Recap 📊
This was the largest xG difference in a match this season. Chicago produced the 2nd lowest xG in a match this season and still came out on top with all 3 points largely due to Alyssa Naeher's 6 saves.
— Field Of Vision (@Field0fVision) May 28, 2023
Chicago had two shots, one on goal, and that was enough to win it for them. On the other side, they bunkered down and held off a barrage of shots from Orlando, in part, due to a stellar performance from Alyssa Naeher in goal, but also because Orlando wasn’t particularly accurate and only got six out of 19 shots on target. This should be a big warning flag to Racing that they need to get their shots on target and be clinical in their finishing if they’re going to get a win against Chicago and get a lead in the Challenge Cup.
After playing Chicago on Wednesday, Racing travels to take on the fifth-place Washington Spirit in Washington, D.C. This will not be an easy game by any means. The Spirit has four wins and only one loss on the season. Earlier, Racing was one of their four draws when they came back from being down 0-2 to tie the Spirit in the second half.
Thus far the Spirit has conceded only eight goals which is three less than Racing. Interestingly, they’ve scored 12 goals which is equal to the number Racing has scored. So, as simple as it sounds, Racing will have to be defensively solid to keep players like Ashley Hatch and Trinity Rodman from beating them in transition, because if Racing is struggling to finish clinically, the best thing they can do is, obviously, fight to shut the Spirit out.
The good news for Racing is they’ve historically done their best in a dense schedule. They went on a three-game winning streak last time they played three games in quick succession. Last May, Racing also had a three-game unbeaten streak when they earned their first-even consecutive wins (plus a draw) in the course of nine days. If Racing can keep showing that they’ve learned how to adjust on the fly and continue to maintain confidence in light of a frustrating loss, they may have the chance to take the lead in the central division in the Challenge Cup and also make some critically needed progress up the standings in the