North Carolina Barrage Too Much for Racing Louisville
After a statement win over the weekend, Louisville returned to Lynn Family Stadium in short order, dropping all three points—but making visible progress—in a 2-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage. Two first half Lynn Williams tallies certified the result, an improvement from Louisville’s last meeting with North Carolina which ended in a 5-0 drubbing in late May.
“I thought, bar two disappointing mistakes, I thought the players were fantastic,” said Holly. I’m really, really proud of them. To be able to contain a team like North Carolina after we made seven [sic] changes was something we’re very proud of.”
The short turnaround from Sunday’s win to the Wednesday fixture necessitated several roster changes to prevent injury and burnout. With a third game over seven days against Chicago Red Stars looming, Racing made eight changes to the starting lineup, giving several first-team squad members much needed rest and providing younger players valuable experience. For many, including forwards Katie McClure, Jorian Baucom and Cheyna Matthews, the game marked their first start in lavender.
“There’s no way that players can play 90 minutes in every single game at the highest level of their performance,” said Holly. “So we want to make sure that we give everybody the opportunity to perform, while also protecting them and ensuring that they’re able to move forward and have a big impact on the game in Chicago this weekend.”
Addison Merrick, who during the offseason was told she was unlikely to play at all this season due to injury, made her Louisville debut as a substitute.
“I didn’t think I’d be back until next season so just being able to have a chance to just train was the nicest feeling ever, to be able to do what I love again,” said Merrick after the match.
While North Carolina dictated the run of play, possessing 62% of the ball and outshooting Racing 13-4 as well as completing nearly double the passes, the Louisville back line were mostly able to absorb the pressure by North Carolina’s world-class attack. North Carolina’s first goal came in the 26th minute when Louisville vice captain Savannah McCaskill was unable to corral a pass in midfield. North Carolina midfielder and US international Sam Mewis dispossessed her and found fellow US international Lynn Williams in the outside of the 18-yard box. Williams, fresh off being named an alternate for Vlatko Andonovski’s US Olympic roster, let go a rising shot and finished the move with class for the 1-0 lead.
North Carolina’s quality was ultimately too much for Louisville’s young and inexperienced lineup to overcome. North Carolina doubled their lead in the 33rd minute, when Williams was left unmarked in the box on a corner kick and headed it home for a brace.
From there though, Louisville kept things respectable. Despite an 84% passing accuracy and eight shots on goal for the Courage, Racing were able to prevent the score line from becoming too lopsided with admirable defending in the final third. Louisville blocked three shots and NWSL saves leader Michelle Betos clocked in for another Player of the Match performance with six saves as Louisville’s last line of defense. Racing also had moments where they looked to attack on the counter but ultimately couldn’t find the right finishing moves in North Carolina’s third.
“North Carolina is a very very good team, so I think the pressure we were able to put on them in the second half, the chances we were able to create, those are really exciting,” said midfielder Lauren Milliet. “There’s definitely stuff that we can do that is avoidable, so I look at that as positive. It’s what we give them. I’m really happy with the performance. I think we put in a really good shift, and I’m excited for what’s to come.”
Racing Louisville Celebrates Pride Night at Lynn Family Stadium
Wednesday’s match also marked Racing Louisville FC’s Pride Night, with coaches donning Pride flag apparel and players wearing rainbow numbers on the team’s kit. Pride symbolism has dominated the world football news cycle lately, with the row brewing over UEFA’s denial of the city of Munich, Germany’s request to light up Allianz Arena in rainbow colors for Germany’s Euro match against Hungary, whose government recently passed a law denounced by many human rights groups as homophobic and discriminatory. UEFA also briefly “investigated” Germany keeper Manuel Neuer for wearing a rainbow armband in solidarity with the LGBTQ community before dropping the inquiry amid public outcry.
In contrast, rainbow tifo and bunting were smattered around among the more than 6,000 fans at Lynn Family Stadium Wednesday night, and the club hosted a Pride party at a local queer club after the match. This morning the club announced that game-worn Pride-themed warmups and kits will be auctioned off with proceeds benefiting Louisville Youth Group, a charity offering a safe space to LGBTQ+ youth.
Louisville will now have another short week to prepare for their Saturday afternoon match in Chicago. Holly, after resting several first-team players and having some come on late as substitutes, will now have his pick of the lineup to round out the congested week. One player still unavailable is Nadia Nadim, signed earlier this month from Paris Saint-Germain. Nadim is still awaiting her visa, but once arrived will bring extra depth to Louisville’s roster.
“It just gives us a little bit more room to play around and keep people fresh and have a good rotation and just bring you know real quality,” said Milliet. “And not that they’re not already quality players but I think it just gives us more spice, adds a little bit of ‘Sporty Spice’ to our lineup.”
Continued Roster Uncertainty
Elsewhere in news which potentially affects Louisville’s roster, Manchester United today announced the departure of US internationals Tobin Heath and Christen Press. The two players, who will next compete with the USWNT at the Tokyo Olympics, have their NWSL rights controlled by Louisville after the club somewhat controversially selected the two in the expansion draft. The team has made no announcements regarding their plans for Press or Heath, though Holly was on record several weeks ago saying the team has attempted to contact the players’ representatives. The club told this reporter via email that nothing has changed since when Holly was last asked about Heath and Press, at the announcement of Ebony Salmon’s signing in May.
“My biggest focus, quite honestly, are the players that are here,” Holly said in May. “…I saw when we took them in the expansion draft we were told what terrible people we are and how dreadful we are and all this stuff. But listen, we respect those players. They’re two of the best players in the world and if their respective club didn’t want to protect them and didn’t think they were good enough to be protected, we certainly felt they are, and they’re valuable assets to this organization.”
For more NWSL coverage from Venus Sports, click here.
Photo Credit: Racing Louisville FC Twitter