Portland Thorns FC will play Racing Louisville FC for the first time on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). The match will be streamed on the league’s Twitch channel. The expansion side did not win a match in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, but secured their first-ever win against the Washington Spirit on May 21.
Despite not winning a match in the Challenge Cup, Christy Holly’s side proved that they would be difficult to beat. In their first match, Racing Louisville drew with the Orlando Pride 2-2 after a 90th-minute equalizer finished off by Brooke Hendrix.
Racing Louisville was on the other end of a last-minute goal in their second match as Ashley Sanchez snatched the three points for the Washington Spirit at the death. Louisville were handed a second straight Challenge Cup defeat in a back and forth 3-2 loss against the North Carolina Courage. Racing Louisville closed the Challenge Cup with a scoreless draw against NJ/NY Gotham FC.
Racing Louisville are one of the four teams to have played only three matches in the regular-season with the other six teams having played four matches. They currently sit in ninth place with four points.
Racing and Kansas City NWSL kicked off their regular-season campaigns with a 0-0 draw at the Field of Legends in Kansas City, Kansas. Racing Louisville secured the organization’s first-ever win in storybook fashion against the Washington Spirit.
Goalkeeper, and former Portland Thorn, Michelle Betos kept Racing Louisville in the match with a stellar performance. The Louisville native and University of Louisville alumna was subbed on and took over. Emina Ekic came on and scored a beautiful goal and assisted Cece Kizer for the second goal.
In their most recent match, the North Carolina Courage showed no mercy to the expansion side. The Courage pummeled Racing 5-0 in WakeMed Soccer Park.
Despite the heavy defeat at the hands of the Courage, Racing Louisville has been tough to score on. They have conceded 11 goals in total across the Challenge Cup and the regular-season but eight of those came against the Courage.
Holly’s side likes to get numbers behind the ball and strive to stay compact and limit opportunities. Sometimes they have success limiting chances, but they also struggle at times. The match against the Courage is an obvious example, but they were thoroughly outplayed in their win over the Spirit for the majority of the match. Betos made great saves to keep Racing in the match and the Spirit were wasteful.
Racing Louisville like to play in transition and on the counter attack. They typically try to find Yuki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill in the center and on the wings. They attempt to find Cece Kizer in behind the defense.
Racing will likely sit back and look to repel the Portland Thorns for large stretches of the match on Saturday and will look to make the most of their opportunities in transition. The Thorns will have to be more clinical in front of the goal as Racing Louisville attempt to do to Portland what they did against Washington. The Thorns will also have to be careful on the ball while building from the back and tighten up in defensive transition to limit Racing’s forays forward, because they can make a team pay with limited opportunities.
Player to Watch: Emily Fox
Racing Louisville selected Emily Fox with the first overall pick of the 2021 NWSL Draft. The fullback played collegiately at the University of North Carolina and has earned four caps for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Fox was also recently honored as part of the NWSL May Team of the Month.
Fox has been crucial for Racing Louisville on both sides of the ball. She has started all three regular-season matches, tallying 266 minutes. She has completed five of her eight attempted tackles, 23 of her 24 attempted duels, and four of her seven aerial duels. Fox has also made 11 clearances, three blocks, and five interceptions.
Fox is a menace going forward. She is very safe on the ball in her own half, but likes to try and play the final ball to her attacking teammates. She has already made three key passes and one successful cross.
The fullback has a really good understanding with Nagasato, making the duo difficult to defend. Fox is good with the ball at her feet and can drive down the line at pace. She also has experience playing in midfield and is able to cut inside and drive into the center to drag defenders out of place before firing on goal or looking for a line-splitting pass.
Racing Louisville will try to maximize the threat of Fox down the flank and the Thorns will have to be ready to defend that space as well as the areas in midfield which she likes to try to exploit.
Portland Thorns FC 2-0 Racing Louisville FC
Goals: Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith
More about the match:
I answered some questions about Portland Thorns FC vs. Racing Louisville FC for the Racing blog Fleur-de-lis FC. You can read my answers to the questions here.
Statistics retrieved from nwslsoccer.com.