Image courtesy of Racing Louisville FC twitter.
Racing Louisville FC are back on the pitch for the NWSL regular season this weekend, resuming play following the international break with a Sunday afternoon fixture with the Houston Dash.
The Lavender look to have a renewed vigor after the week off, which is reflected on the squad list. New signings Ebony Salmon and Gemma Bonner could be poised to make their debuts for the club, and players who’ve suffered from injury are returning to full fitness.
“It’s exciting as we go into the game, it’s probably the first time maybe all season where we have to make decisions about who actually gets on the roster,” said Racing coach Christy Holly. “The competition is great for us, we need that, that’s what pushes players on. The quality of the players that we brought in definitely raise the high end for the team so it’s exciting.”
One such returning player is forward Cheyna Matthews, who is match fit after taking maternity leave and dealing with a hamstring injury. She is expected to feature prominently for the club after representing the Jamaican national team in a slate of friendlies this past weekend. Matthews, 27, started for the Reggae Girlz in a 1-0 win over Nigeria and a 4-0 defeat to the United States. Matthews said getting back on the pitch after considerable time off and competing again with the national team was a “great experience,” and will help her in her return to club soccer.
“Stay healthy, that’s the name of the game, especially with three games coming up,” said Matthews, referring to a tough stretch ahead for Louisville in which they play three games in one week. “Being able to test that too, we had a game Thursday and a game Sunday. So now I’ve felt how my body recovers coming back from a three-day period of time between games.”
Holly called Matthews a “really important piece of the jigsaw” for his expansion side and praised her pace, maturity, and ability to work hard to return to form, noting the importance of having a player with national team experience in a younger, less seasoned clubhouse.
“For us, to see Cheyna go out and represent Jamaica, play against the US the best team in the world, and get significant minutes in there and have a big impact within the game, it’s something that we want to feed off,” said Holly. “We know the work she’s put in, and it’s sometimes a thankless task when you don’t get to do it in front of cameras or people to see it coming back off of maternity leave, but she’s ready to go now, wants to have a big impact on the game and we could not be more proud.”
The incoming reinforcements come at an opportune time for Racing as they resume league play with the aforementioned three-game week. Louisville play Houston and North Carolina at home Sunday, June 20 and Wednesday, June 23 respectively, before travelling to Chicago for a Saturday, June 26 match. Matthews said the increased depth and competition will help the squad throughout the stretch.
“We’re going to have some turnaround, obviously, and some rotation because we do have three games in a week,” said Matthews. “So we’re challenging each other, we’re pushing each other and that should be good.”
The task directly ahead for ninth-place Louisville on Sunday is solving 2020 Challenge Cup winners Houston Dash. The Dash sit fifth in the table at 2-2-1 and went into the international break riding high on two consecutive wins. Holly acknowledged the quality he’s up against, specifically praising Kristie Mewis, the US international forward who is second in the league in assists so far, Shea Groom, defenders Megan Oyster and Katie Naughton, midfielder Sophie Schmidt and goalkeeper Jane Campbell.
“They’re a very difficult team to break down, but we have highlighted some areas where we think that we need to dictate to them what’s going to be happening within those moments,” said Holly on his approach to slowing the Dash down. “If we allow them to control the game, if we allow them to set the tempo and the direction, it could be a long afternoon.”
Though they face a talented roster, Louisville do have one advantage on their side: Lynn Family Stadium will be open at 100% capacity for the first time since opening. Holly welcomes the opportunity to play in front of a full-force crowd and enhance his side’s connection to the fan base as Covid restrictions ease and the country continues to open up.
“Now as the restrictions lift we can actually grow that connection between us the fans even stronger than what it is,” said Holly. “And that just fuels us a little bit more, so it’s very exciting.”
Racing Louisville take on Houston Dash at 3pm eastern on Sunday, June 20. The match will air on Paramount+.
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