After a last-place finish in the East Division in NWSL’s preseason Challenge Cup, Racing Louisville FC believe that the best is yet to come.
“We hear that we’re a young team and all of this, but we can really compete with the best teams in the league,” said defender Kaleigh Riehl after Racing’s final Challenge Cup fixture, a scoreless draw with NJ/NY Gotham FC. While the tie against Gotham provided Louisville with the club’s first clean sheet, head coach Christy Holly said it was Racing’s “worst” performance of the four-match tournament.
“I don’t think we executed anywhere near what we were looking for in terms of possession or defensively,” said Holly.
The expansion side’s two draws and two losses were good for fifth place in the five-team East Division. Only the West Division’s recently relocated Kansas City ended the tournament with a worse record. Still, Holly believes in his team’s quality despite the middling Challenge Cup results.
“We are so much better than what we have shown in these first few games,” Holly said after a late own goal handed the lavender and mint green a narrow 3-2 defeat to North Carolina Courage in their third match. Louisville similarly dropped points away to Washington Spirit in their second Challenge Cup match, which saw Ashley Sanchez score the decisive stoppage-time tally for the home side.
Louisville forward and vice-captain Savannah McCaskill pointed to the lessons the young team can take from these preseason results.
“It is important going into our regular season games, especially in this league, we are going to have some tough games,” said McCaskill. “We are going to have some close games. We have to find a way to stick together and somehow come out with points.”
McCaskill said that while Racing is new to NWSL, the expectation is to compete right away.
“We want to show that we’re not going to be another expansion team that [says], ‘It’s our first year in the league. We’ll always be kind of thin,’” said McCaskill.
Louisville’s Challenge Cup campaign started on a high note, with Brooke Hendrix slotting home a 93rd-minute equalizer against Orlando Pride in front of 5,300 fans, a then-record for the club’s brand-new Lynn Family Stadium in early April. Despite rainfall throughout the first half, defender Erin Simon praised the crowd’s energy in the club’s first match on home grounds.
“To come out in the second half and see the clouds and fans sticking it through the rain and cheering us on, it was just an incredible atmosphere,” said Simon.
Despite the winless preseason campaign, Racing Louisville’s players and coaches alike are optimistic heading into the regular season.
“I think there’s just a lot we can work on, and I think there’s a lot of positives we can take from this,” said Racing midfielder Lauren Milliet following the scoreless draw against Gotham, which saw the New Jersey-based club advance to the nationally televised Challenge Cup final on May 8th.
Louisville, meanwhile, will have their first opportunity at a win for the franchise at home against fellow last-place finishers Kansas City on May 15th – the club’s regular season debut. Holly stressed his team’s growth throughout the tournament and insisted that wins are on the way for the expansion team.
“I think that win will happen,” said Holly. “As we maximize our potential and take care of our roles on the field, the results will come.”
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