Home News NWSL season preview 2023: Racing Louisville has eyes on breakthrough campaign

NWSL season preview 2023: Racing Louisville has eyes on breakthrough campaign

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In its third season of existence, Racing Louisville hopes to put itself into the picture for a potential NWSL postseason berth.

One of the most underwhelming teams in 2022 has to have been Racing Louisville. With two top-four selections in the 2022 draft, and Kim Bjorkegren in his first season, many thought Racing would turn into a potential “dark horse”. The depth at the forward position is nowhere near what it was heading into the 2022 campaign.

Consistency has been one of the main issues with Racing since they entered the league. It will collect a couple of top-class outings, but then fall flat on its face against a team that has not been playing the best soccer at that moment in time. Bjorkegren added some depth with Kayla Fisher from Ohio State via the draft and former Tigres star Uchenna Kanu in a deal that sent rookie Riley Parker out on loan in Liga MX Femenil. Kanu netted 14 goals in 19 starts for Swedish top-flight side Linkoping back in 2021.

With the intention of giving Katie Lund some help between the sticks, Racing acquired two defenders in exchange for its star USWNT left back. Carsen Pickett and Abby Erceg will provide the sort of stability that this club lacked as Lund was called into action more than any other shot-stopper in 2022. The Plano, Texas native made an astounding 41 more saves than the player with the second-highest save total, DiDi Haracic of Angel City.

Nadia Nadim and Jessica McDonald bring that all-important veteran presence to this club. Nadim is still trying to come by following an ACL tear in late September against the Portland Thorns. Breaking into the top eight should be a realistic goal that Racing could achieve if everything goes its way. Paige Monaghan is one of the most underrated free agency grabs of the last few months. Her versatility, and experience playing in the attack for Gotham make her a player that the coaching staff could convert into an outside back. Currently, on the Racing roster, the former Gotham attacking player is listed as a defender.

This club is one to watch throughout the season, but given what this team has endured in the past combined with all the new faces, it is going to take a little more time for Racing’s accession into a playoff team.

Racing Louisville projected starting XI (4-4-2):

Goalkeeper: Katie Lund

Defenders (4): Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett, Paige Monaghan, Julia Lester

Midfielders (4): Savannah DeMelo, Jaelin Howell, Lauren Milliet, Wang Shuang

Forwards (2): Uchenna Kanu, Jessica McDonald

(*Starting XI takes into consideration injuries, and players coming back from injury*) 

Racin Louisville Most Important Player: Midfielder, Savannah DeMelo

With two top-four selections in the 2022 NWSL Draft, Racing Louisville established its midfield for the future. After Jaelin Howell was taken by the team with the second overall pick, Racing chose the USC product Savannah DeMelo two selections later.

As the back-to-back Hermann Trophy winner and ACC Midfielder of the Year, Howell received a majority of the post-draft hype. In their rookie seasons, DeMelo made a statement despite the team not being able to collect consistent results. The NWSL’s July Rookie of the Month was the key to Racing’s attack with her vision and passing range going forward.

The former USC standout finished the 2022 NWSL season third out of all players in progressive passes with 125. DeMelo is just behind Carsen Pickett, and Vanessa DiBernardo in that category. Her play stood out so much that the USWNT called her into the senior team for the first time in her career for the September friendlies against Nigeria. What stood out the most from DeMelo during her rookie campaign was her ability to change the game from dead-ball situations.

Everyone knew that they were going to be punished if they fouled Racing anywhere near the 18-yard box. Her pinpoint accuracy can change the game. Whether it is from a free kick or her passing going forward, DeMelo is going to be at the center of everything for the side from Kentucky in 2023.

Racing Louisville best case scenario for the 2023 season: A chance at a postseason berth late in the season

If Racing would to have an opportunity at a potential berth into the postseason toward the end of the campaign, that would be a dream for this club. In the previous two seasons in the league, the Louisville side has not had a sniff of the postseason. Led by a whole lot of new faces, it is going to take some time for this club to gel together during its first campaign together. Katie Lund has been one of the busiest goalkeepers in the league. Defense was on the top of the priority list for Racing during the offseason.

The improvements at the back should be evident with Carsen Pickett, and Abby Erceg coming from North Carolina in exchange for USWNT star Emily Fox. While Fox is a quality player, the combination of Erceg and Pickett surpass Fox alone who is going to be with the United States during part of the season at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Bjorkegren may have won that deal, but the losses of both Cece Kizer, and Ebony Salmon are still going to be felt among the squad throughout the 2023 campaign. Kanu has shown she can score in Mexico, but the question is if she can translate that into the American top-flight. It is a team to keep an eye on for sure, but the growth of Racing into a contender is going to last into 2024.

Racing Louisville projected finish: 11th in the NWSL table

The story of Racing Louisville since they entered the NWSL has been the failure to establish consistency. There are instances of individual brilliance, but under Kim Bjorkegren, Racing has not yet strung any of them together like many of the others around the league. The purple and white have finished in ninth place in their only two campaigns in the NWSL.

In both of them, Racing has allowed 35 or more goals. They had impressive wins against the Current and Wave last season, but losses to Gotham and an excessive amount of draws sum up 2022 pretty well for Bjorkegren’s side. Overall, people should look for those bright spots throughout Racing’s season. Can Kanu become a prolific goal scorer in a new league? Is DeMelo going to avoid the sophomore slump? There are plenty of talented players throughout Louisville’s roster, but they simply did not do enough in the offseason to give them a boost into the playoff picture during their third season in the NWSL.

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