In just its second season of existence, Racing Louisville FC is making some noise in the early part of the season. With the addition of veteran forward Jessica McDonald, the growth of Emily Fox, and the selection of former Florida State star Jaelin Howell with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 Draft, Kim Björkegren and her crew are off and running. The firing of former Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly after the club's inaugural season and the hiring of Björkegren have elevated this franchise to new heights. While there are plenty of growing pains with the club still being in its infancy, the trajectory of this team is looking more promising than many thought before the season kicked off.
A mediocre Challenge Cup saw Racing Louisville finish third in the Central Division, but since the rain-filled opening match against the Chicago Red Stars, Racing is beginning to find its stride. It still may be early in the season, but the progress is there and after a win over the hottest club in the NWSL, people need to start paying attention to a club that can potentially make some noise come late in the season. Racing Louisville's defense has been its problem so far this season, but against a team that has netted the most goals in the league, it made a statement.
After the resounding win against the Wave at home, Björkegren spoke about his team's performance, stating, "You can see the fighting spirit,” said coach Kim Björkegren after the match. “Everybody supports. It doesn’t matter if you play 90 minutes or if you play two minutes or if you play no minutes at all. Everybody’s there to support and I’m really proud of this group."
Goalkeeper Katie Lund and the backline put together the first-ever shutout against the San Diego Wave in the regular season. Björkegren and his backline have not always been the most consistent, allowing goals to teams like the Houston Dash who in hindsight does not have the most lethal of attacks. There was some rotation in the Wave lineup, but for a team that has been carving up opponents at a constant rate to hit a sudden stalemate was extremely note-worthy. The performances in the back have to continue to be consistent but to see this team shut down a squad that was essentially scoring goals at will makes the league pay attention to this second-year club even more.
While Racing Louisville made a statement by putting together a shutout, its ability to execute on setpieces once again proved to be the difference. From Emina Ekic's free-kick against the Chicago Red Stars a few weeks ago to the world-class free-kick that Savannah DeMelo placed in the top right corner past Kailen Sheridan, Racing Louisville is becoming dead-ball specialists. Some of the players in the attack for Björkegren's squad can put it past some of the best goalkeepers in the world with ease and precision.
Louisville followed up its best win of the season with its back-to-back shutouts, first against San Diego, and this past weekend against a regressing Gotham side. It was the first time in the history of the franchise that it has won two consecutive games. After five matches, and another weekend in the NWSL, Björkegren's crew is all the way up in third place, behind only the new expansion sides. Seeing the top-three teams in the league be occupied by three teams that have entered the NWSL after 2020 shows how competitive this league truly is.
Consecutive shutouts for Katie Lund after there was much speculation about the goalkeeper position in Louisville following the inaugural season. There were plenty of opportunities that were wasted by Gotham FC including Kristie Mewis who got incredibly unlucky not to score multiple times before the whistle blew for halftime. The chances that Gotham squandered ended up paying dividends for Racing Lousiville who started on the road putting pressure on Scott Parkinson's backline.
Once again, Jessica McDonald was involved in a goal for Racing Louisville as the veteran placed the ball into the middle of the box where no Gotham defender could reach it. The 25-year-old midfielder, Lauren Milliet got on the end of the cross and smashed in what would turn out to be the winning goal back in the 13' of the contest.
In the last two matches, Racing Louisville has scored a goal in the first 30 minutes. In the first two contests of the season, Björkegren and his defense allowed four goals, but in the last three, the opposition has only been able to find the back of the net once. The turnaround, and accession of Racing Louisville this upcoming season is going to be a sight to behold. From a club that finished in the bottom two of the league last season to a team that has strung together two straight wins including one against a squad that possesses without a doubt one of the most explosive offenses in the NWSL.
The win against San Diego on their home turf was not just a fluke. Something is in the water at Louisville right now, and one of the newest NWSL teams is moving towards what could be the beginning of the rise. Racing Louisville has the quality combined with youth and experience that a contending team in the league would want to possess. Fox is growing into one of the best not only defenders in the NWSL but players in the league with her versatility and dynamic skillset as a wingback. McDonald came to Louisville with expectations given her pedigree on the highest stages, and so far she has delivered more than Björkegren may have thought for this team.
17 more matches left before the regular season comes to a close. There is plenty of time for the table to change in a plethora of ways, but for right now, the team that calls Lynn Family Stadium their home is flying high. Only eight shots found the target in the last two matches, but that is all it took for Louisville to seal the deal. No quality opportunities are wasted for Racing Louisville so far in the regular season as opponents know if they give this team any sort of chance, they will be punished for it. Gotham may have hit the woodwork a multitude of times, but Louisville's ability to connect four passes together for its only real chance of the game and execute is what ultimately matters.
Next up on the docket for the team is a struggling Kansas City Current side who they have played twice already in the group stage of the Challenge Cup. The 4-2-3-1 formation with Fox pushing up the left flank has proven to be the answer for Racing Louisville. Setpieces and execution have been the theme for the success of this relatively new franchise. Last season there was a lot to learn coming into the NWSL, and now with a coach, star players, and a system established, Racing Louisville is ready for the big time.