Louisville Take Two Shutout Defeats into International Break — But Help is on the Way

By: Justin McMullen
Posted: June 9, 2021

Racing Louisville FC head coach Christy Holly is nothing if not pragmatic. After enduring a second consecutive shutout loss, Holly understands when his expansion side, who have played a mere eight games against NWSL opponents, is outmatched. 

“We know that we’re sitting in the middle of Portland with a brand new team against a team of World Cup winners, we know it’s not going to be easy. We just want to make sure that we’re chipping away at everything we’re doing, and trying to get better every week.”

Racing’s last two matches have provided a sort of regression to the mean for the young club. Saturday saw Racing drop points in a 3-0 loss to Portland Thorns FC, a week after a 5-0 loss to North Carolina. But just as Louisville were reluctant to place too much emphasis on the team’s successes — a draw and a win in the first two weeks — goalkeeper and captain Michelle Betos shared a more encouraging message for her squad. 

“The message is keep working,” said Betos. “I mean, look how young we are. And I’m not making excuses, we’ve said from the beginning we will never make an excuse.  But there’s going to be growing pains. Probably half this team hasn’t come up against the likes of a Lindsey Horan and a Crystal Dunn. You go through the list of players that they have, it’s an incredible challenge for us. And so my message is just like let’s move, let’s grow, let’s do better. “

Indeed, Portland’s star-studded roster caused Louisville headaches throughout, with Horan earning a goal and an assist ahead of US National Team camp. The Thorns limited the visitors to four shots total with none on target, and managed 28 shots of their own with 12 on goal. Angela Salem opened the scoring for the Thorns in the eighth minute, when Simone Charley sent in a cross that knocked around Louisville’s 18-yard box without being cleared. Salem was able to run up and smash a ball past Betos from outside the box. The Thorns continued peppering Racing with chances, forcing Betos into several impressive saves before again breaking through in the second half. Horan set up Rocky Rodriguez up for a 49th minute tally, then got her own goal after a long cross into the box skipped past any and all intended targets or defenders and into the net. 

“I thought we started the first half very, very well, showed some fantastic signs and then gave up what I thought was a soft goal,” Holly said about his team’s performance in the loss. “We dropped off a little bit and then we fought our way in toward the end of the first half. And then give up another goal within two minutes of the second half and a quarter way through. I was disappointed with the third goal but there was definitely moments within the game that we need to look at, take it, and add that to a consistent performance moving forward.” 

One very clear positive Louisville can take away was, yet again, the performance of Betos in goal. The veteran keeper made nine saves, including several highlight-worthy efforts that prevented the scoreline from becoming any more lopsided. According to NWSL Analitica, Louisville rank highest in the league in expected goals against, at 10.5 over the course of four games.

That Louisville has managed two clean sheets and allowed eight goals over four games (five of which came in one match) is testament to Betos’ efforts, admirable efforts by rookie Emily Fox and the Louisville backline. 

“We know with Michelle’s leadership and Michelle’s experience within the league she knows that coming here is not going to be an easy assignment at every point,” said Holly. “So we’re very fortunate to have that presence in the back line.”

Louisville will now head into a week off due to the FIFA international window, during which forward Cheyna Matthews will represent Jamaica after making her debut with Racing as a substitute Saturday. Matthews, 27, recently recovered from a hip injury and took to the pitch for the first time since taking pregnancy leave last year.

“I feel good now, so it was really important for me to be able to get a feel for it before I got on the international stage again,” said Matthews after Saturday’s match.  “So hopefully I just keep building and stay healthy.”

Louisville Sign Nadia Nadim After Championship with PSG

After the break, Louisville will field something of a revamped roster, with three players from elite leagues overseas set to be available to the squad. The team announced today the signing of Nadia Nadim from French champions Paris Saint-Germain. The 33-year-old forward scored 10 goals and four assists in helping to snap Lyon’s 14-year streak as Division 1 Féminine champions and bringing home the trophy for the first time in club history. The Danish international star remarked in her introductory press conference that she was excited to return to the NWSL, where she succeeded with Sky Blue FC (now Gotham FC) and Portland Thorns FC before moving to Europe. Nadim will bring crucial experience in the no. 10 role for the club and is expected to make an impression in the starting XI upon receiving a work visa.

“I’m pretty sure that I will be able to fit in the squad, and I’m pretty sure that I can add some value,” said Nadim at her introductory press conference.

Nadim will be joined by English Women’s Super League stars Gemma Bonner and Ebony Salmon. Bonner was signed from Manchester City in March and Salmon, the WSL Young Player of the Year nominee from Bristol City, inked a deal in May. Both players will be available after the break, and like Nadim, are expected to factor heavily in Holly’s squad. Holly talked of the impact his new signings will have in improving his expansion side, specifically mentioning how having Nadim and Salmon’s abilities will improve the team’s scoring threat. 

“Having Nadia, and having Ebony coming in, players that are more comfortable higher up the field, makes us a bigger threat nationally and compliments some of the skill sets that we have in [Cece Kizer, Yuki Nagasato, Emina Ekic and Savannah McCaskill],” said Holly. “So I think it makes us just a more dangerous team. It gives us many more dimensions to how we can attack a team, whereas I think at times, teams may have been able to get comfortable, because we have many players that wanted to work underneath the ball.  Nadia likes to be higher up the field. She likes to score goals, it’s important to her, scoring goals is something she thrives on and I think that can have massive influence. Ultimately, we’re excited about all the players we have.” 

According to Holly, the new signings will also have a positive effect on the rest of the squad. The increased depth allows players like Cece Kizer, who has had success out of position in a no. 9 role, to return to a more natural position, and generally allows players more rest and more opportunities to make an impact off the bench. 

“It’s good to be able to turn to your bench and have serious weapons coming off there, and also to be able to rotate and rest players — someone like Savannah McCaskill, she’s running herself through a wall right now,” said Holly. “It just takes a lot of weight off the shoulders and allows a little bit more rotation and injury prevention which is something I’m very excited about.”

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Image courtesy of Oregonlive.com

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