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 (21/8/21).
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 43rd 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.
by Catherine Paquette (18/8/21).
The upcoming week will see two National Women’s Soccer League clubs host two major invitational women’s cups. The first, The Women’s International Champions Cup, will be held in Portland, Oregon to crown the world’s best club. The second, the Women’s Cup, will be held in Louisville, Kentucky.
Both tournaments follow very similar formats, including the days the matches will be disputed. They are a great opportunity not only to see fantastic European teams play NWSL American teams, but also to see diverse styles of football facing off.
Women’s International Champions Cup
The Women’s International Champions Cup is in its third year of competition. It was first held in 2018, although suspended last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and aims to crown the world’s best club.
This year it has invited four teams to participate. The first two are European teams, the 2020 and 2021 UEFA Women’s Champions League winners Olympique Lyonnais and FC Barcelona. The other two are American clubs, the 2020 and 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup winners the Houston Dash and the Portland Thorns.
Portland, and its stadium Providence Park, will be the host for this year’s WICC. The stadium is the home ground of Portland Thorns, who have the highest average attendance of any women’s club team in the world. Over 20,000 individuals regularly pack into its 25,218 capacity stadium.
The first two matches will be held on Wednesday, August 18. It will start with both European teams meeting at 8:30PM ET (Thursday, August 19 at 1:30 AM BST in Europe) followed by both American teams facing off at 11PM ET (Thursday, August 10 at 4 AM BST in Europe).
The third placed game will occur between both first match losers will occur on Saturday, August 21 at 7:30 ET (12:30 AM BST on Sunday, August 21 in Europe. It will be followed by the final between both first match winners at 10PM ET (3 AM BST on Sunday, August 22 in Europe).
The whole tournament will be broadcast on:
It should bode to be a very competitive tournament. FC Barcelona are coming off a season in which they earned 99 points in the Spanish top flight. l’Olympique Lyonnais have responded to a disappointing campaign by their own high standards by going on an ambitious recruiting drive, the Portland Thorns lead the NWSL by five points and the Houston Dash, while eighth in the league, are behind the second place team by only three points and will be bolstered by a number of returning Olympic medallists.
The Women’s Cup
The second invitational tournament of the week will be the Women’s Cup. Hosted in Louisville, Kentucky, it will follow the same four game format as the WICC. French Division One champions Paris Saint Germain, German Frauen-Bundesliga champions FC Bayern Munich, NWSL club the Chicago Red Stars and host NWSL club Racing Louisville will be the four teams participating.
The losers of both games will then meet during the weekend for the third placed game at 3PM ET (8PM BST) followed by the winners of both previous games at 6PM ET (11 PM BST) to determine the Women’s Cup champions. This will occur on Saturday, August 21.
The first match should prove to be a competitive one. Bayern Munich are coming off a good pre-season preparation, one that has seen them win the AMOS Women’s French Cup where they beat both Olympique Lyonnais and Roma. Paris Saint Germain’s preparation has not gone as well, losing all three of pre-season matches so far. However, they will have the return of a number of Olympians for this tournament.
Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars have met once prior to their opening tournament match. Racing won the match 3-0. Both have teams fully capable of good creative play. However their teams have also proved inconsistent at times this year.
Broadcasting for The Women’s Cup will be available on Paramount+ in the US, PSG and BM networks in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland and on atafootball.com elsewhere.
Impetus will be covering both tournaments in detail, so keep an eye out on our social media (@ImpetusFootball on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) for Catherine Paquette‘s articles over the coming days.
Ben Gilby spoke to Inga Schlegel, the deputy head of women’s football at FC St. Pauli about how a club with a huge reputation for social inclusion are progressing in the third tier of German league system (25/3/21).
Inga opened our conversation by detailing the history of women’s football at the Hamburg based club: “Our department was founded in 1990 by female St. Pauli fans who wanted to play football for THEIR club. In the beginning, the club had to get used to the idea of women playing football but eventually the acceptance was there. Only around 2001 the first girls’ team started to play for St. Pauli. In 2008, the women’s team was split into two teams. The first team was supposed to play more performance-related football while the second team was playing more or less “for fun”.
With the German league having one of the highest profiles in Europe thanks to the Champions League exploits of VfL Wolfsburg and the growth of Bayern Munich, Inga explained how FC St. Pauli fit into the pyramid system: “There are two national leagues throughout Germany which are the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga. Then you have five regional leagues which are split into different areas (North, North East, South, South West and West). This is the third highest level in Germany for women. Our first team plays in the Regionalliga Nord which covers the northern area of Germany. All our other women teams play locally on different levels in Hamburg.”
Whilst Schlegel hinted earlier that it took the men’s club a while to get used to the idea of having a women’s team at the beginning, I asked her how the relationship was now: “Women’s and girls’ football is completely independent from the men’s part. Nevertheless, there is a good exchange with the club in general and they are taking good care of their amateurs who are an important part of the club’s identity and supporters.”
The club’s identity is very much the biggest strength. For a 2. Bundesliga men’s club, FC St. Pauli have a huge profile completely out of sync with their standing in German football. This is due to their overt policy of support for social inclusion for all. Inga expanded upon how the women’s team support this: “We absolutely live and support the values of the club. Normally, if you come to St. Pauli – no matter if you are playing football, Rugby or table tennis – it is because you share the same values and want to meet people that have a similar mind set. It’s not any different in our department and we have seen it quite often that people started to live and breathe this club and its values once they had joined – even if before they weren’t overtly politically or socially active.”
That group of people playing girls’ and women’s football at FC St. Pauli is an ever growing one and once more, social inclusion is a key part of the set-up. Inga explained: “We have four girls’ teams and five women’s teams. Fortunately, we have teams on almost every level so that every girl has the possibility to join a women’s team once they are old enough – no matter their skills. Of course, the goal for a lot of girls is to join the first team and play on a really decent level. However, to immediately make that step is not always easy and we are trying to build an environment where young and talented players can grow slowly to find their way into the first team one day.”
That large number of girls and women pulling on the famous brown shirt has challenges of its own. “We want to grow and give more girls and women the opportunity to play football in our club,” says Schlegel, “Unfortunately, for that you need free and available training grounds – which are really difficult to find in Hamburg for anyone. The second challenge is to find qualified coaches that are able and willing to stay longer and really develop something with you. We are all volunteers and do this in our free time which sometimes is a big challenge.”
The league season for FC St. Pauli’s senior side has seen a win and a loss. I asked Inga how she saw the division this year and the club’s aims: “The loss was very unlucky but in general the start was really okay. The quality of all teams is very similar and from the results so far you can see that anyone can beat anyone. We would like to keep all teams in their leagues this season. However, the most important thing this season definitely is that people are staying healthy!
In terms of where FC St. Pauli would like to be in five years’ time, Inga said: “In general, we would like to have a women’s team on every level – from the lowest up to the third league (which would be five teams in five different leagues). The first team should have stabilized further in the third league, ideally being placed under the top three on a regular basis. We would like to have more girls’ teams and give them an even better opportunity to play performance-related football. Nevertheless, we still want to have women and girls who want to play “just for fun” and make sure that they have a home in our department – and always will have.”