The Art of Racing and the Reign

By: Justin McMullen
Posted: July 31, 2021

Racing Louisville FC visit OL Reign with both teams looking to dig themselves out from the bottom of the table 

Racing Louisville FC and OL Reign, two teams languishing near the bottom of the NWSL table, will meet on Saturday night. The match kicks off at 10pm for eastern time zone viewers, a time slot known affectionately among NWSL fans as ‘NWSL After Dark’ for its reputation to sow drama and chaos in matches, even — especially — among teams farther down the table. 

But 10pm eastern is just 7pm in Tacoma. The match will not be kicking off ‘after dark’ for any of its participants or spectators. And the two teams have goals and expectations for the match that go beyond  entertaining some weary-eyed neutrals on the east coast hoping to see some wacky goals or questionable red cards; they want to prove, to themselves and the league, that they’re here to compete. 

Sitting eighth and ninth place at this stage of the season isn’t a death sentence at this stage of the season, either. While Portland Thorns FC have widened their lead at the top with 22 points, the rest of the table is tightly contested and ever-changing. Louisville knows this first hand; last week, the Washington Spirit defeated Racing to jump from seventh place to third place over just one weekend. With two points separating Louisville and the Reign, a win for either side on Saturday would inch the victor closer to the sixth and final playoff spot as the season’s halfway mark approaches. 

“We know where we’re at,” said Louisville manager Christy Holly. “We know what we’re trying to do. We have some fantastic athletes. Now, we are trying to blend these athletes together. We are trying to impose our identity on them and the NWSL.” 

Racing are coming off the aforementioned loss to Washington from last weekend, and are on the road for Saturday’s contest in Tacoma, Washington. One major storyline aside from the dropped points came in the form of Nadia Nadim, who made her Racing Louisville appearance and logged four shots. Nadim made an impact off the bench in the 55th minute, and will look to back up her strong debut this weekend. Despite the strong efforts of Nadim and CeCe Kizer up front, Racing were unable to break through and the Spirit avenged their previous 2-0 loss to Louisville with a 2-0 defeat of their own. 

“I said to the girls this morning, ‘You’re allowed to be frustrated, disappointed and annoyed, but you can’t be lacking confidence,’ after doing what they did on Sunday,” said Holly who was pleased with his side’s effort, saying Louisville “dominated” most of the game. 

For the Lavender, who are winless in their last three matches, one objective for the weekend is simple: score. Racing have only scored one goal over the past three matches and have been shut out twice in that span. While they have increased their opportunities since bolstering their attack recently with Nadim and standout striker Ebony Salmon complementing existing pieces like Kizer, Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasat, they are still working on finding their finish. 

“It goes without saying: you don’t score goals, you don’t win games,” said Holly. “But also, we have to be able to play in games where we have that dominant amount of possession as we did [against Washington] — I think we had 58% in the game — and we have to realize when we have a team on the ropes and kill off the game.” 

OL Reign enjoyed a better weekend than their upcoming visitors last week, defeating an Alex Morgan-less Orlando Pride on the road. The Reign, who are led by interim coach Sam Laity as they await the post-Olympic arrival of their new manager Laura Harvey, improved to 13 points on the season with the win. While European loanees Eugénie Le Sommer and Dzsenifer Maroszán appeared more and more settled for The Bold, the standout was forward Tziarra King, who scored her first goal with OL Reign in a performance that earned her NWSL Player of the Week honors. 

“About time, man,” King said of opening her account. “As a forward it’s kind of my job to score goals, so it was kind of shitty to have not contributed that for however many games to play now. But I’ve kept my head down and I’ve kept working towards it, so it feels good to finally have one in my column for sure.” 

While the Reign have struggled through a poor start to the season which resulted in the resignation of their manager just a third of the way in, they have a deep, talented roster many thought capable of contending for a title. While American internationals Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle remain away from the team on international duty alongside midfielders Quinn (Canada), Angelina (Brazil) and Japanese forward Nicole Momoki, the Reign are still fielding a strong roster of experienced players, though they have still looked out of sync at times which has led to an uneven run of form over the past month. 

While The Reign finished a difficult two-week road trip with the victory against Orlando and do get the sense that the squad is turning a corner according to King, they still know they need to improve, and are not placing too high an emphasis on last weekend’s win. 

“We are not comfortable with settling in any way,” King said. “I think we still have an uphill battle here and so we’re doing whatever we can to improve everyday, working on the things we need to work out, so we can come out tomorrow and get it poppin’.” 

Saturday night’s match will be the first time the two sides have met, with Racing playing out their inaugural season this year. According to Laity, for whom this will be his penultimate game in charge before returning to his assistant role under Harvey, the unfamiliarity with the opponent has no bearing on the club’s preparation. 

“We look at the individual qualities of players and we design our strategic approach around that,” said Laity. “Whether they’ve been in the League for a week or for seven years, we’re going to try and hurt them as much as possible as I’m sure they will try and hurt us.” 

From Racing’s perspective, Holly knows the quality of his opponent, and knows they can cause problems if the Reign’s players such as Le Sommer and Maroszán that have struggled earlier play to their potential, the host will make for a difficult assignment. 

“They are a dangerous team,” Holly said. “If we let them dictate the terms of the games to us then we will find ourselves in a very difficult position. We will go there as we have with other teams and we will try to dictate to them how this game needs to be played. We have to be on our game. We know it will be a difficult trip but it is something we are excited about.”

Racing Louisville FC and OL Reign will face off at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash. on Saturday, July 31 at 10pm eastern. The match will be broadcast for free internationally on the NWSL’s Twitch channel. 

For more NWSL coverage from Venus Sports, click here.

For more thoughts and opinions from Justin, check out his author page or Twitter.

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