Racing Louisville started playing in the NWSL this year. The club was built on ambition: the ambition to win, the ambition to raise standards and ultimately the ambition to be the best in the world. This week they welcomed three of the world’s top teams for The Women’s Cup, proving that their ambition can be matched by action. Impetus‘ North American correspondent Catherine Paquette reports.
When the Louisville NWSL expansion side was announced in October 2019, the new club’s ownership group outlined an ambitious project. The new women’s club would start playing in 2021 at the new Lynn Family Stadium, a soccer specific venue in Louisville Kentucky for the new NWSL team and their ownership’s parent men’s club Louisville City FC.
The expansion club would also move into a new $15 million USD training facility during their first season. On top of a spectacular women’s locker room, the shared facility with the men’s side would be equipped with weight room, dining hall, media/film room and several fields. The club would also build a girl’s academy, to operate alongside its boys academy, from scratch.
New sporting projects are often filled with proposals, promises and ambitions, although follow through is never assured. What is most inspiring about Louisville is that not only have they fulfilled their promises, but to most observers they have surpassed expectations and raised NWSL standards.
Racing’s goalkeeper Michelle Betos, who has played professionally on three continents including two other NWSL clubs, stated that it wasn’t until she came to Louisville that she felt like a true professional.
However, just when one thought that Louisville could not surpass franchise expectations, their hosting of The Women’s Cup in their first season of operation has made the ambitious club even more impressive. With less than six months of play, they have welcomed German Frauen-Bundesliga winners FC Bayern Munich, French Division 1 winners Paris Saint Germain and fellow NWSL club the Chicago Red Stars for the four-match tournament.
Upon their arrival in Louisville both European clubs’ airplanes were greeted by a water salute followed by a reception party in the terminal for the two teams and their representatives. While this type of welcome is commonplace for big European men’s clubs touring the US in pre-season, it is a rarity to see such a display on the women’s side of the game.
The good impressions continued when seeing the club’s stadium. German international and PSG midfielder Sara Däbritz expressed her amazement: “We walked in, we said wow, it’s an amazing stadium for women’s football. We can’t wait to play here. When you see a stadium like this, it’s like wow, I want to play now!” Play they did.
Despite both clubs being in their respective pre-seasons, the game was a very close and competitive affair. This is hardly surprising. After all, these are two very well organized teams, with incredible talent both on the field and the bench. While Bayern originally dictated the game, it was PSG who opened the scoring account.
Sandy Baltimore, who caused all sorts of problems for Bayern during the match, made an excellent cross into the box to Marie-Antoinette Katoto who headed it in. Bayern were able to not only equalize before the half, with Linda Dallman scoring a goal in the 43 minute, but then double their score in the first half extra time with a Lea Schüller goal.
PSG got the equalizer in the 57th minute, after Kheira Hamraoui headed home a goal off a corner. The match ended 2-2 after 90 minutes and headed to penalty kicks. After six rounds of shots Bayern sealed their place in the final with a 5-4 penalty win.
The second match of the semi-final was between the Chicago Red Stars and the home team Racing Louisville. The match also doubled as an NWSL regular season game. Chicago entered the game in sixth place in the NWSL, with Louisville in ninth. Despite the difference in positioning, Louisville were only five points behind their opponents with two fewer games played in the league.
Louisville has had its struggles at times this season, as one would expect of any expansion team. The newly composed team has been going up against clubs that have been in existence and played together for several seasons. Some adjustment as they find their playing style and synergy was expected. However, its most recent form has been promising and improving.
English import Ebony Salmon opened the scoring for the hosts in the second semi-final match. Stealing the ball from Red Stars defender Danielle Colaprico, she then nutmegged their goalkeeper to score.
The high tempo game continued, with Louisville holding most of the possession. However, it was Chicago who had more shots and shots on goal in the match. They finally capitalized in the 57th minute of play with a Kealia Watt goal.
After 90 minutes of play, drawn at 1-1, both teams proceeded to penalties like the first semi-final of the tournament. The hosts came out on top, also winning the shoot-out in the sixth round of kicks by a margin of 5-4. This was done in front of a record crowd of 7,310 individuals.
Today will be the continuation of the exciting first year of existence for Racing Louisville. Another double header event, the Chicago Red Stars will face PSG in the first match for the third place crown. This will be followed by the first place Munich-Louisville game. The hosts will surely hope to not only beat their attendance record, but also Bayern Munich in front of their new fans.
Speaking of the prospect of facing such a high calibre team in their first year of existence, Racing Coach Christy Holly stated: “It is one of the clubs that I have admired and have a great level of appreciation for what they’ve done for the women’s game but also the game worldwide. To see the headlines that Racing Louisville is playing Bayern Munich in Louisville on Saturday night, I’m not sure there were too many people who would’ve believed that if you told them 18 months ago.
“That’s a testament to the fans that have been supporting us and the ownership that has invested in us not only money but time, energy and motivation to move this thing forward to give this incredible platform for women’s athletes. It’s a magnificent privilege but one that we definitely want to take advantage of and try and make a statement for this club and this city.”
The third placed game will kick off at 3PM ET/ 8PM BST on Saturday, August 21. This will be followed by the final will take place at 6PM ET/ 11PM BST. Games will be available on Paramount+ in the USA, PSG and BM networks in France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria and ATA Football elsewhere.
Should the final result go in Louisville’s favour, it will be a remarkable win for a nascent club. It would be a great reward for all the efforts put forward off the field. It would prove to be a victory that has met the original ambition set by the club when it was created 18 months ago. Ultimately though, what we have already seen coming out of Louisville off the field, including this Women’s Cup tournament, those are the real winners.