Depending on who you ask, Racing Louisville FC’s abrupt dismissal of head coach Christy Holly “for cause” was a surprise. Or, it wasn’t.
Days later, details remain scarce. WDRB News in Louisville has gleaned the most details from the situation, which is to say, not much:
“Two sources close to the team have told WDRB News that some players complained about a “toxic environment” they allege was fostered by the coach, as well as other potential improprieties. Publicly, however, players have praised Holly in recent weeks as they have navigated the busiest part of the team’s schedule.”-WDRB.com
What we do know is that Holly is no longer an employee of Racing Louisville FC and that Mario Sanchez, head of Soccer Holdings, LLC’s (the parent company of Racing Louisville and their USL counterpart Louisville City FC) youth academy system, has been appointed interim head coach. We also know that Holly had previously left the former Sky Blue FC in 2017 after having “lost the respect of Sky Blue players and coaches” along with his now-wife and former player Christie Pierce Rampone, as multiple sources told The Equalizer at the time. (Reporting has indicated that this had nothing to do with his firing by Racing Louisville.) Holly has also been subject to questions about his involvement in a visa fraud scheme carried out by a youth soccer program that partnered with Sky Blue at the time he was in charge, though Hayes Gardner at the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that the scheme did not have anything to do with Holly’s firing.
We also know that earlier this season, two high-profile figures in NWSL front offices and technical staffs were let go as a result of investigations related to the NWSL’s new anti-harassment policy: Alyse LaHue, former General Manager of NJ/NY Gotham FC, and Richie Burke, former head coach of the Washington Spirit. However, a league spokesperson confirmed to Venus Sports on Thursday night that there is no ongoing investigation by the NWSL into Holly.
Some of those situations remain shrouded in mystery; LaHue’s lawyer stated that she “denies the allegations made against her,” but nothing has been made public about what those allegations were. A day before the details of abuse allegations made against Burke by former players, the team released a statement saying Burke was dealing with health issues and would be re-assigned to the Spirit front office upon recovering from said health issues. Were it not for the bravery of Kaiya McCullough and other sources interviewed by the Washington Post, who broke the story, the “health issues” may still be the party line. (Two people familiar with Burke’s health did tell the Washington Post that Burke was dealing with stress-related issues and required hospitalization.) For various reasons, valid or otherwise, the behind-the-scenes runnings of NWSL operations are as kept hush-hush as possible.
Jack O’Connor, Racing Louisville executive vice president, when asked by local media if Holly’s firing had anything to do with illegal activity, answered, “A great question. I don’t know whether I’d say illegal. I don’t know, that’s a subjective viewpoint, if you like … I’ll plead the fifth. I’ll take the attorney line on that.”
Even Racing Louisville’s players and interim head coach have been left in the dark. Captain and NWSL saves leader Michelle Betos was asked if the players were informed of the reasons behind Holly’s departure. “No, not really,” Betos said. We’re not focused on that. It’s not the why, it’s the what. What do we do now? We can’t harp on what happened … Our whole focus is ‘how do we move forward?’” Sanchez, who trained the team for the first time on Thursday, gave a similar answer, saying all he was told — and all he needed to know — was that there was a need for a change.
As time goes on, answers may come out. As accusations and assumptions swirl, a clear narrative, a smoking gun could avail itself, as it has with Burke. Or alternatively, the situation may be kept under wraps to protect the privacy of the affected parties, as seems to be the case with LaHue. Perhaps it’s unfair to even mention Holly’s firing in the same breath as either of those two other individuals. But all we know is what we don’t know. And all we’ve heard is the “attorney line.”
Here’s What Else You Need to Know this Week
Meanwhile, the players of Racing Louisville FC have a game to play as they face off against third-place OL Reign this Saturday. Betos is focusing on blocking out the noise of the past week as the team prepares to continue their inaugural campaign.
“I’ve been in this game a long time, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s a reflection of life,” Betos said. It just throws you curveballs sometimes that you don’t expect. That’s what it felt like, one of those curveballs. Luckily, like I said, I have a lot of experience in this league, I’ve been thrown a lot of some different curveballs. My response was, ‘how do we keep moving forward?’”
Betos believes that is the mindset for the rest of the squad as well, praising her teammates, many of them with considerably less experience in the NWSL, for their attitude and resiliency through their first major hardship as a team.
“It’s a really motivated group,” Betos said. “They have great heads on their shoulders, and above all, we really believe in having each others’ backs and sticking together. So it prepares you for the hard parts.”
OL Reign, led by head coach Laura Harvey entering her fifth match with the team since joining after the Olympic break, have been on a tear of late, winning six of their past seven league matches to launch their way into third place in the table. Sanchez, who will lead Racing Louisville in his first-ever NWSL match as a coach, projected an air of confidence ahead of a tough assignment for the reeling expansion side.
“Obviously [OL Reign] are a good team, but I like how trainings have gone,” Sanchez said. “It doesn’t matter who you play. The same nerves are there, the same preparation is there. You have a process, and we go out and prepare the best we can.”
Racing Louisville FC and OL Reign will kick off at 7:30pm inside Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, KY. The match will be broadcast in the US on Paramount+ and internationally on Twitch.