(image courtesy of Racing Louisville FC twitter)
Racing Louisville are back on the road Friday night, taking on second-place Orlando Pride as the league enters the second week of its Olympic period.
While the match marks the two teams’ first meeting in the regular season, Racing have battled with Orlando before, earning a draw courtesy of a stoppage time equalizer by Louisville defender Brooke Hendrix in Louisville’s first ever competitive match during the preseason Challenge Cup.
“That was some of our players’ first ever individual minutes in their career,” said Racing captain Savannah McCaskill on the prior meeting with Orlando. “Being able to get our feet underneath us as a team and really start to jell and really set our identity of who we want to be as a team … that’s been the development that I’ve seen the most from this group of players.”
The Challenge Cup draw was played without the likes of Gemma Bonner or Ebony Salmon, who have buoyed the squad’s production as the young roster have gained more experience, earning a 2-2-0 record over their last four matches. The two losses have come against top-three squads, as Racing have dropped points to league leaders North Carolina Courage and experienced a 2-0 July 3 defeat to third-place Portland Thorns.
“Going into this game, I think we’re determined to come back from losing at home against Portland,” said McCaskill. “We have something to get back on track with and we need to go out and get three points in Orlando.”
After going unbeaten in their first seven games and sitting first in the league table for much of the first third of the 24-game NWSL season, the Pride have slumped somewhat to the tune of two losses in as many games. A 2-0 defeat at the hands of the North Carolina Courage on July 4 saw the Courage leapfrog Orlando at the top of the table. The Pride have some roster wrinkles heading into the Louisville match: captain Ali Krieger (ankle) is questionable at center back after suffering an injury in last Sunday’s loss, as is Phoebe McClernon (ankle). Midfielders Marisa Viggiano and Jade Moore are both out. Orlando also have to deal with the Olympic-related absences of forward Alex Morgan (United States), Brazilian legend Marta, and starting right back Ali Riley (New Zealand) as the players join their respective national teams to begin preparation for the Tokyo games. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod is also gone having been named an alternate for Canada, though first-choice keeper Ashlyn Harris remains an option after being left off the United States roster.
“They’re going to have a completely different roster [and] starting lineup missing their national team players, so it’s gonna be a bit different going against them, but that’s not something for us to underestimate,” said McCaskill. “We’ve said that since we’ve started looking at them for the whole week. We need to go in there and take care of our business, do what we need to do, and treat it like they’re the strongest lineup ever, and just not give them any room to breathe, basically. We want to go in and impose ourselves on them and I think that’ll be the biggest thing is if we can get after them in the first 10-15 minutes and really put them on the backfoot and really go after them, I think that’ll be huge for us to help us get the three points.”
Louisville will again keep their squad together as no players were selected for Olympic rosters. Midfielder Taylor Otto, who has missed the last seven matches with a knee injury, will be available for selection, further expanding coach Christy Holly’s player pool. Gemma Bonner, the Manchester City transfer, appears to be back at full fitness after being held out of the squad last week out of caution. Defender Julia Ashely, who Racing picked up in last year’s expansion draft, is also on the mend after being nagged by various injuries early in the season and only accruing 74 minutes over four matches.
“I picked up a couple knocks–hamstring and then Achilles,” said Ashley. “But I’m just absolutely thrilled to be back out there with my team and getting minutes under my belt, building each week. And just finally feeling good, it’s been awesome.”
Holly believes that his side have improved greatly since these two teams last met and singled out a June 26 road victory over Chicago as a turning point in Louisville’s maturity level. Holly is counting on his players to put their experience to use after understandably showing “naivety” in the previous fixture.
“We want to show more control within the game, and dictate the tempo and the direction of the game,” said Holly. “And that’s something that will be pieced together through all the previous games where we’ve gained that experience, that understanding, and a recognition of what opposition teams are trying to do to us.”
Racing Louisville FC will visit the Orlando Pride at Exploria Stadium on Friday, July 9 at 7pm ET. The match will be broadcast on Twitch.
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