World-Class: Previewing Racing Louisville versus the Orlando Pride – 9/11/2021

Match Details

Who: Orlando Pride (6-5-7) host Racing Louisville (4-8-5)

When: Saturday, September 11, at 7 PM ET

Where: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL / Live on Paramount+

Some quotes have been edited very slightly for clarity.

Big Opportunities

Racing Louisville has long strived to provide players with world-class facilities and experiences. Now, they once again have the chance to celebrate the world-class players on their roster.

This week, it was announced that Ebony Salmon and Nadia Nadim have both been called up to represent their nations in UEFA World Cup Qualifiers. For Nadim, who will represent her adopted nation of Denmark, this was call-up was more of a given. She’s been a stalwart for the Danish team since 2009 and will likely earn her 100th international cap during qualifiers. For Salmon, who will represent England, the call-up was more of a surprise.

“They’ve just come off the back of the Olympics, a new coach has come in,” said Salmon about the English team. “I hadn’t heard anything. I hadn’t heard anything from the coach.”

This is just Salmon’s second call-up to the English senior team. Her only other appearance was as a late addition to England’s squad for their 6-0 friendly against Northern Ireland last February. The magnitude of the opportunity to join the senior team just as they’re preparing for a new cycle and bringing in a new coach is not lost on Salmon.

“Since I got my first call up, a lot of people have asked me my ambitions with England and I’ve said I just want to focus on club football and, hopefully, international will take care of itself. And I think, yeah, it’s obviously a big opportunity for me especially being the first camp with a new manager making a good first impression. So that’s going to be huge for me.”

Racing Louisville’s interim coach Mario Sanchez is “so extremely happy” for Salmon and called it a big honor to reach the senior team. He also says it reflects well on the club as a whole.

“For the club to have that quality of players, it speaks volumes to what we’re trying to do, and I think that it shows that we’re attracting international players,” said Sanchez.

Salmon does credit her experience in Louisville as helping her improve and develop her game. She admits the United States has been quite different from her experiences in England but said she’s glad she took the risk to come overseas.

“Like I said when I came to this league, one of the reasons was to adapt my game and grow more as a player. And I think I’ve definitely done that in the three months I’ve been here. I’ve still got a lot more to do and a lot more to improve on but I definitely think I’ve grown more as a player since my first call up.”

Salmon and Nadim aren’t the only international talent to grace Racing’s roster. Yuki Nagasato was on the Japanese national team that won the World Cup in 2011 and was runner-up in 2015. Cheyna Matthews was on the first Jamaican team to reach the World Cup in 2019 and was called up to represent the team in friendlies earlier this summer. On the United States side, Savannah McCaskill has been capped six times for the senior national team since 2018 and Emily Fox has represented the senior team four times.

Future Potential

Speaking of Fox, Sanchez says he’s been impressed by what he’s seen from her so far, saying: “We all know her athletic ability to get up and down is literally world-class. That’s been proven.”

The decision to start Fox as right back last week was a tactical decision. Eugénie Le Sommer and Dzsenifer Marozsán were a handful for Racing the last time the teams met and Sanchez felt Fox was best equipped to face them. The experiment was a success, according to Sanchez, who said he’d definitely consider putting her on the right again. In particular, he was pleased that the change allowed Fox to take advantage of her natural right-footedness giving her the chance to send in more crosses – including an early one that was almost a goal.

“From her evaluation, I know she was happy with it,” said Sanchez. “We’re happy with it and we’ll continue to make little adjustments… But I was really happy for her. I thought she had a really good game against arguably some of the best opponents in the country.”

Emily Fox dribbles downfield
Emily Fox versus the OL Reign last week in Louisville / Image courtesy Connor Cunningham

One reason Fox might be so pleased with the chance to play right-back is that it may help earn her additional call-ups for the national team. With an injury-prone Kelley O’Hara edging closer to retirement and Ali Kreiger seemingly out of the national team player pool, the spot is essentially up for the taking. In her most recent cap in January 2021, Fox was substituted in for Krieger on the right, possibly demonstrating that head coach Vlatko Adonovski is evaluating her for this role. The fact that she has shown she can seamlessly switch sides certainly adds to her appeal.

Regardless of Adonovski’s plans for the future, Fox’s stellar rookie season has certainly been catching attention. Recently, Just Women’s Sports declared her to be in the running for Rookie of the Year, alongside teammate Ebony Salmon. If Fox continues to develop at the rate she is currently, Racing fans may have to get used to some regular call-ups in the near future.

High Press and High Expectations

Last week, Racing managed a draw against OL Reign which was quite the accomplishment after the week they had. While he’s pleased with the result, Sanchez insists that a draw is just the baseline of what the team is capable of.

“That has to be the minimum. The emotion we bring, the energy we bring, that’s just the starting point. And I know we have more soccer in us and I know we have better moments ahead of us. And I just told them, the minimum now is we gotta start getting three points.”

Part of the team’s success was committing fully to a high press. Against the Reign, the team came out energetically and prevented stars like Rose Lavelle’s from creating any particularly good chances for much of the game. Sanchez says players are bought into the style of play and agree that a draw is the minimum acceptable standard. He says the players themselves have “high expectations” for the team and are willing to do what it takes to earn results.

Salmon agrees that the change in philosophy has reinvigorated the team. Instead of faltering during an abrupt coaching change, Racing has only grown stronger as they look to close out the season on a high note.

“I think people probably saw in the game last week there was a lot more energy than there used to be and I think there’s a lot more fight for each other. So I think going forward, we know there are seven huge games for us and we need to pick up points but I think we believe in ourselves as a team that we can go and do that.”

Turning Points

This Saturday, Racing heads down to Orlando to play the Pride. Racing has met the Pride twice so far – first, in the preseason Challenge Cup and then in July during the regular season. Racing’s most recent match against the Pride was an interesting one because it served as a sort of a turning point and exposed some of Racing’s best and worst tendencies.

In this July match, Racing came out of the gates swinging and played some of their best soccer to that point. This match was where they began to make marked progress in areas like possession, shots against, and passing accuracy which they’ve been able to maintain more or less up to now. Unfortunately, this match was also the first in a frustrating trend of 1-1 draws where Racing goes up first and holds the lead for much of the game only to lose it at the very end. This trend would repeat itself against Gotham, Chicago, and OL Reign.

For Coach Sanchez, these late draws are the result of a still-developing team mindset. Racing has clearly gotten better as the season has progressed, now they need to believe that they can win.

“I think if we can get them into the mindset of ‘let’s get the second goal’, once we start flipping that, I think you’ll see obviously that confidence will build,” said Sanchez. “But I think it’s one of the toughest parts, you know, when you’re a new franchise, a lot of new players. Now with the experience we have, that’s some of the conversations they’re having.

“What I love is, without us coaches, as players, they’re talking about that – ‘hey we need to get the second goal, we need to get three points.'”

Salmon agrees that these draws – and how to avoid them in the future – are at the forefront of players’ minds.

“It’s definitely something we’ve spoken about,” said Salmon. “Conceding late goals – maybe not even late goals, just conceding goals at moments where we probably shouldn’t be conceding. I think we do well to go goals up in games which we probably didn’t do at the start of the season. So I think one thing we’ve spoken about is when we get that lead, making the most of it – either to keep improving that to get more and more goals or if the team we’re playing is on top of us to just sit back and try and defend that lead.”

Now that Racing is reinvigorated with a new coach and new philosophy, they have the opportunity to turn this game into another turning point. If they can earn three points on this trip, it’ll give them the momentum they’ll need to finish out the season strong. It won’t be easy, though. Alex Morgan is likely to return for this match, giving the Pride the strongest roster they’ve ever had against Louisville. On the flip side, Racing have also added to their roster since the last match-up with Nadim in the lineup.

Ultimately, this match could go either way. Orlando has stayed towards the top of the table all season, but their play is somewhat inconsistent. They’ll draw Portland one minute and then lose to the Spirit the next. They’re aggressive and tough to break down, though, so Racing will have to match that energy to get a result. Still, Racing has played them fairly successfully in the past which may give players the added confidence they need for this matchup.

Either way, Racing needs to get a result for this match. They have a good shot for three points, but they shouldn’t settle for anything less than another draw. Although they’ve spent much of the season in ninth place, sixth place – and a playoff berth – is only six points away. Even without earning the playoffs, Racing has a good shot at passing Houston into eighth place. This would be an accomplishment since no expansion team has ever had a better standing than second to last in their first year.

Furthermore, Racing is now only two points away from matching the highest number of points earned by an expansion team in their inaugural year. And they still have seven games left to play. A single win will propel them into taking that honor fully. Interestingly, the current record holders of this stat are the Orlando Pride. With a little luck and the right mindset, that honor might just be overtaken tomorrow night.

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.