Ready to Compete: Racing Louisville head to the Women’s Cup final on 2-0 win over América de Cali

“Ready to Compete”

Racing Louisville punched their ticket to the Women’s Cup South America final after beating home team América de Cali 2-0 on Tuesday night. This was the best possible outcome for a preseason match with a lot of anticipation surrounding it considering how much the team has been overhauled between seasons.

“I’m very proud of this group,” said Racing coach Bev Yanez after the match. “We talked about it coming into the game, being ready to compete and understand where we’re at in preseason, giving us an opportunity to play a very good opponent. What are we doing well? Where can we continue to improve? For us, it’s about starting on the right foot come the start of the season and how we continue to progress through the year. I’m proud of them controlling what they could control.”

The first goal came early with Jordan Baggett scoring a beautiful volley off a clearance in the fifth minute. This goal plus an overall solid performance in the center midfield earned Baggett Player of the Match accolades as well. Early in the second half, Racing put the game away when Savannah DeMelo earned a penalty and converted it expertly to put Racing up 2-0.

Although América de Cali did start the game with a great deal of energy and played a considerably physical game, they didn’t provide too much trouble for Racing and generated only a couple of real chances to test keeper Katie Lund.

This is Racing’s third trip to a Women’s Cup championship in three tries with Racing winning the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2021 and coming in second to OL Reign in 2o22.

A graphic showing a 4-3-3 lineup
Racing Louisville’s starting formation against América de Cali on February 28, 2024.

Key Takeaways

A Fresh Update

Fans of Louisville have been restless waiting for this match because it would feature the debut of some big new additions to Racing Louisville’s roster as well as the first real glimpse at first-time head coach Yanez’s tactics and style of play.

In terms of style, there have been hints that Yanez would strive for more fluidity on the pitch and that’s definitely what was seen. In particular, Carson Pickett was free to move all the way up the sideline and cut in centrally at times as well. This is in contrast to last year where she was mostly confined to playing up and down the sideline and typically stopped around midfield. Considering one of Pickett’s greatest strengths is precise service into the box, this greater fluidity should benefit Racing as long as they’re able to shore up the wings when she’s out of position against more dangerous squads.

New addition and veteran defender Arin Wright also was free to move forward and roam a bit more as the right center back. Considering she’s speedier than Elli Pikkujämsä, it’ll be interesting to see if she’s allowed to roam as much against faster NWSL clubs like the Portland Thorns with forwards like Sophia Smith whose bread and butter is getting in behind.

The Kids Are Alright

Speaking of new additions, the two top draft picks — Reilyn Turner and Emma Sears — got starts against Cali and left a positive impression on Racing fans. Turner and Sears both demonstrated good on-the-ball movement and created some exciting chances. They also worked especially well together and had a few moments of interchange that showed they could become a dynamic duo on the pitch.

Finishing, however, was an issue with both getting extremely solid chances only to shoot directly at the keeper. This is not surprising or overly worrying considering that it’s preseason and these were the first true competitive minutes the two draftees had ever seen. The fact that neither seemed intimidated or bowed by their opponents is a very positive sign. With some more development and some additional competitive minutes under their belts, they could very easily become the deadly attacking duo that Racing has been looking for all these years.

Defenders draftee Sam Cary and U18 non-rostered invitee  Micayla Johnson also got some late minutes on the pitch, but without enough time to really gauge performance. Still, despite turning over the majority of starters — including the entire back line except for Abby Erceg and keeper Katie Lund for backup Oliva Sekany — they helped keep a clean sheet against an increasingly desperate Cali team. Johnson was also able to show off her speed and dynamism with a nice breakaway down the sideline late in the match.

Keeping Cool

One of the best performances of the night came from Kayla Fischer, a player who showed promise last year as a rookie but never had the chance to fully break out. If she keeps putting in stints like she did last night, this might be the year she does, in fact, break out.

Despite a rough start that saw an early yellow card, Fischer kept her cool and managed to last the full 90 minutes of the match without getting another card. This is especially impressive considering Cali players were doing everything they possibly could to goad her into another foul and were knocking her down relentlessly. Besides keeping focused, however, Fischer tried challenging progressive passes more than practically any other player. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t but the fact she tried showed a level of creativity that has sometimes been lacking in Racing’s attack.

Someone who maybe should have kept it a little cooler is Savannah DeMelo. One of DeMelo’s skills is drawing fouls in dangerous areas, but late in a game that’s already up 2-0, she was putting herself in dangerous positions against a frustrated opponent who was making hard, physical challenges. As admirable as it is that she’s willing to go all in during a preseason game, Racing would suffer greatly if she were to be injured, so here’s hoping she’s not quite as willing to put it all on the line in the final. Yes, it would be great to win the final, but it’d be even better to have a healthy DeMelo in the regular season.

Looking Ahead

With fans so excited to finally see Racing on the pitch, it can be hard to remember that this is still preseason and that the purpose of this tournament is more about assessment than anything else. Of course, the team wants to win hardware, but they also want to test their depth and try different combinations.

Depth was an ongoing issue for Racing last year and tired legs led to a number of squandered leads and dropped points. It was therefore hopeful to see that substitutions like Marisa DiGrande coming in around the 65th minute once the tempo began to flag did, in fact, improve the tempo of the match and keep Racing in the game.

As for the team’s overall performance, Yanez said, “I think for the group with where we started on day one and where we’re at right now, we’re obviously happy with where we are, but we’re not satisfied. We have a lot of things to get done leading into the start of the season, but what I’ll say is everything that the group’s trying to process from a concept and the style of play perspective, they’re doing an incredible job. So I look forward to these next few weeks leading into the start of the season.”

Louisville will now fight fellow National Women’s Soccer Team side NJ/NY Gotham FC for the Women’s Cup trophy on Friday, March 1st at 8:30 PM Eastern. Viewers can pay to watch on the Women’s Cup streaming site or watch for free on BeIN Sports Xtra if they have Amazon Prime, Roku, YouTube TV, or other providers.

Bekki Morgan

Covering Racing Louisville on the Beautiful Game Network and the central NWSL teams on Co-host of Butchertown Rundown: A Racing Louisville Podcast. Find me on Twitter @bekki_morgan and my pod @ButchertownR.