We’ve already looked at the two expansion clubs that came into the league in 2022. Now we turn to the previous-big-new-expansion-thing, Racing Louisville from 2021.
According to the club Wiki page chatter had an expansion team in Kentucky as early as 2018, but the outfit that started as “Proof Louisville” didn’t actually come in until the season before last.
So let’s take a gander at…
Racing Louisville FC
Year formed: 2019
Like the doomed Sacramento Senators(?), and the Carolina Courage, Racing is one of those USL-men-NWSL-club partnerships.
The expansion deal was announced at the end of the 2019 season, and the new club began to play two seasons later. Between October 2019 and April 2021, as the Wiki page says, “Soccer Holdings LLC” began to….
“….build their roster through a combination of free agent signings, a trade with Chicago (for McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato in exchange for draft protection from the 2020 Expansion draft, the draft itself (this was the draft where Louisville grabbed Heath’s rights from us and Press’ rights from Utah along with 12 other players including Merrick and Milliet from the Damned, Shelly Betos from Seattle, and Kizer from the Dash) and the 2021 NWSL Draft (where they took Emily Fox with #1 overall as well as Emina Ekic with #5 and four others). Since the opening of the season, Racing also added English internationals Gemma Bonner and Ebony Salmon…Miramontez from the Damned, and former Thorn Nadia Nadim.”.~ Wikipedia “2021 Racing Louisville Season“
With that promising group on the pitch the club began to play.
Owners: Soccer Holdings LLC
The outfit that owns and operates Racing (and, as noted above, the men’s USL Louisville side) is chartered in Kentucky. The usual LLC-opacity is visible – or INvisible – on the corporate database page, if you want to bother. Two people are listed at the top:
Someone named John Neace is chairman and CEO. Neace appears to be the usual local business magnate with his financial and real estate interests. We’ll talk a bit more about this guy and his partner below, but he seems to have been a wheel in the USL team and wanted into the WoSo biz and got it.
The president is listed as James O’Connor. He looks like the “soccer guy” part of the management; a former Stoke and Ireland juniors player who moved into management of the Louisville USL club and from there into the Racing C-Suite.
Not to drag more damn Riley (spit!) Shit into these briefings, but both of these jokers were involved in hiring Christy Holly away from Sky Blue in late summer 2020.
Holly turned out to be a reeeeal Riley-grade scumbag. Skeevy stuff? You name it – harassment, sex shenanagins, even-high-shool-boys-don’t-do-this-shit (and I don’t even want to go there…) – he did it. He thoroughly worked over the poor Racing squad before he got busted in 2021, both for that and his earlier fuckery in Jersey.
The Racing ownership got hammered in the NWSL/PA report:
“…the NWSL and NWSLPA said that, “Racing did not go far enough in assessing his treatment of players,” by not speaking with Sky Blue President Tony Novo or speaking directly to Sky Blue players…As early as June 2021, players reported Holly had “shouted at” and “personally attacked players.” Management responded by holding a joint meeting with players and coaching staff, which players said created a “fear of retaliation” which discouraged them from reporting further concerns.”! Hughes and Wilson, December 2022
But the club canned Holly in August 2021 so yay, Racing! Right?
They’ve never really accepted their culpability, and the league hit the organization with a $200K fine for their fucktardry.
The owners are also involved in a usual “we gave you tax money and you fucked us” dispute with the City of Louisville and it’s civic watchdogs.
It’s the normal “the politicians ship the team owners a slug of tax abatements and float bonds to build their venue – Lynn Family Stadium – and supposedly a whole entertainment district and then the team does jack shit”.
None of the other stuff gets built (admittedly, the pandemic screwed everyone there, but, still, it doesn’t sound like the club tried hard, either…) and so the city taxpayers get hosed:
“The “local participation agreement,” which laid out Louisville’s obligation, anticipated that those taxes would generate $12.8 million over a 20-year period starting in 2020.
For example: In 2020, 2021 and 2022, estimates called for $1.2 million in local property tax revenues at the stadium site. The actual amount during those three years: $110,118.57. That amounts to less than 10% of the original projections.”~ Green, 2023
So…gee. Using tax money for sportsball is a dumb idea.
So Louisville is well down there in Paulson Territory. I don’t get the sense that the local fans are quite as angry as ours…yet. But this is an outfit with a pretty fucked-up history, and it’s a pretty goddamn short history to be that fucked-up.
Head Coach: Lars Kim Björkegren
For a change, a Swede.
I can’t find anything that suggests Björkegren ever played other than schoolboy football. He seems to have taken the unusual path of starting as a manager, first in his hometown of Linköping and then with a series of higher level men’s clubs in Sweden. He moved to the Damallsvenskan with Hovås Billdal IF, a small club in the city of Göteborg. From there he moved up the Swedish league ladder, eventually taking over at Linköpings FC, where he managed the club to a successful title defense as well as the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.
From Sweden Björkegren has jumped around, first to mainland China with Beijing BG Phoenix in 2018-19 (finishing sixth), from there to Apollon Ladies FC on Cyprus, where he swept the 2020-2021 league schedule without a loss, and from there to Louisville at the end of 2021.
Björkegren and Racing had a very poor season last year.
2022 – 5-9-8 (23 points; 9th of 12) 23GF 35GA -13GD
Season summary: Louisville’s best month was May.
Racing dropped its opener but then mounted a sort of half-assed mini-charge, going 2-0-2 between the end of April and the end of May, including draws in Seattle and against Houston and a win over the visiting San Diego Wave. They were in third on Matchday 5.
But that was it. The club won only three more games last season and finished well out of contention.
Meetings with Portland: 7/29/22 (1-2 home loss), 9/21/22 (3-0 away loss)
Outstanding players: The Holly mess gutted the 2021 squad. Among the players that didn’t let the door hit them in the ass were Savannah McCaskill (traded to ACFC), Julia Ashley (to Houston), Nagasato (back to Chicago), Kizer and Merrick (back to Kansas City) and Ebony Salmon (to Houston). Erin Simon was waived.
Racing also finally gave up the ridiculous chase of Christen Press and Tobin Heath that began in their expansion draft, trading Press’ rights to ACFC in return for protection from the 2021 expansion draft and Heath’s to Seattle for Bermanbux and picks.
The rebuild included bringing in Jaelin Howell, Savannah DeMelo, and Jordyn Bloomer through the NCAA draft, trading with Carolina for Jess McDonald, as well as picking up a slew of discovery players.
For much of the season Racing’s marquee attacking player was Nadia Nadim.
But much like ACFC, the problem there was that Nadim didn’t score – much. Six goals, no assists.
Savannah DeMelo chipped in four and two, and Jess McDonald – going into a “cold” cycle in her hot-and-cold-phase form – three and four. Three players bagged two each.
Meanwhile, in back…
The Racing DMs and backline were a shitshow that worked poor Katie Lund’s butt off. She led the league with 112 saves and even managed to keep six clean sheets, God knoweth how. Lund saved Racing about a goal every four games, so about 5 goals over the season. Christ but Racing was a dumpster fire in back.
So we’re looking at nearly a mirror image of the club we just looked at, ACFC; weak production in front, disastrous backline (and Lund instead of Didi Haracic, so about 50% more of those opponent chances went in instead of being saved…) and the result was, unsurprisingly, a poor season overall.
Their record in the pinch was similarly meh. They didn’t drop points like Carolina did (and were about three points to the good of the Thorns…) and they did decently coming from behind; not as well as Houston or Kansas City or Seattle, but slightly better than we did.
With the Holly disaster it’s hard to see two poor seasons in a row as some sort of comprehensive condemnation of Racing as an organization on the pitch (in the FO? Another matter…). Both were a mess, but the 2022 mess seems distinct from the 2021 mess.
It has been two consecutive poor seasons, and as any former Sky Blue or Breakers fan could tell you, there’s only so much losing that casual fans will take before they stop turning out.
How did they score?
Barely at all, and pretty much just three players doing the work.
Racing was especially barren on corners, which is kind of surprising when you have someone like McDonald in the mixer…but then, as we mentioned, McD was pretty cold in 2022.
Like ACFC, since Racing was leaking in back and really dependent on the run of play it was critical that they had someone who could score from open play and, instead, they had Nadim; a great scrappy forechecking forward and second option…but not a Morgan or a Smith, not a line-leading striker.
Makes you wonder if there was some other sort of plan.
If there was, it never emerged.
How Did They Look?
Here’s how, beginning with the win over San Diego in May:
A 4-2-3-1 with McDonald at the #9, Chidic and Milliet on the wings with Kizer in the middle, Howell and DeMelo as DMs, Martin-Simon-Merrick-Fox across the back
Here’s the first Portland game at Lousiville in July:
Lots of changes; a 4-3-3 with Nadim as center forward. McDonald moves back to RW, DeMelo forward to LW. Chidiac stays put but the other two midfielders are new, Howell, with Olofsson in the middle. Fox is the only remainder of the May backline (except Milliet, who’s moved back to RB).
This was the match with the weird Chidiac-no-angle-goal that Portland came back to win 1-2.
Here’s how they’d changed when they came to Portland in September:
Still a 4-3-3 only with Ekic where DeMelo was and DeMelo moves back to RM, Chidiac moves central and Howell returns as LM. The backline is just the same and just as bad – this was the 3-nil rout that saw Nadim go off early with a season-ending knee injury.
Finally here the are in the final day win over Kansas City in October:
4-2-3-1 this time, with Kirsten Davis – who’d come in for Nadim when she went down with her ACL tear here – starting at the #9. Chidiac and DeMelo swap places and McDonald stays wide right.
Milliet moves up to DM alongside Howell and Julie Lester takes her place at RB with the usual rest of the backline.
It seems like Björkegren had a system he liked – some version of 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 – but didn’t have the horses at center forward to make them work, and didn’t seem to have a solution for his porous backline, at least not one that worked there, either.
So there you are; your 2021 Racing Louisville FC.
Changes for 2023
Well, late in 2022 Racing shopped a pick and some Bermanbux to Seattle for the rights to attacking midfielder Wang Shuang, who is signed for the coming season.
Shuang is something of an enigma; good enough to have signed with Paris St. Germain for the 2018-19 season but released after a kinda meh season (18 appearances, 7 goals) and returned to mainland China, where she’s played since 2013, mostly for Wuhan Jianghan University.
We noted in our discussion of Carolina, Racing picked up defenders Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett in trade for Emily Fox late in January. On draft day Racing traded their 1st round #4, Bermanbux, and an international spot for forward Paige Monaghan.
Racing had four draft picks, none in the first round after the Monaghan deal, and took:
Kayla Fisher (forward/winger) – 2nd round #16
Brianna Martinez (right back) – 2nd round #17
Jadyn Edwards (center midfield) – 3rd round #29
Riley Parker (center forward) – 3rd round #31
Henderson slagged the Martinez pick but was okay with the other three (indeed; he quite liked both the third-rounders) but also noted that for a team that couldn’t stop a U-15 rec league team from scoring on them that Louisville did very little in the draft to shore up their backline. Which is probably the reason for the Erceg/Pickett deal.
Still…not a lot of steel added to this mess over the offseason.
How they’ll look next year?
Here’s the Henderson guess:
That seems kind of odd to me, and that’s disregarding the before-the-Erceg-deal thing and the forward-to-RB Monaghan conversion.
Unless this is a weird 4-3-3 it’s a 4-1-4-1. That is a very defensive formation, and 1) the Louisville FO has been stockpiling forwards while 2) Björkegren never went there, even while Racing was getting slagged in back during 2022.
Instead I suspect we’ll see something like this 4-2-3-1:
A lot of this is pure speculation, and also depends on Nadim 1) rehabbing the knee, and 2) continuing to be the primary #9 option. Could it be Kgatlana instead? Kanu? Davis? I dunno.
This is a pretty big rebuilding year for Racing, and – I think – a critical one. This club has GOT to start putting a quality product on the pitch.
The fans have been very patient; Louisville averages 6,000 or so a match (which is in the top half of the league, if barely), and was only slightly down from 2021. But if 2023 is another shit season pretty soon numbers are going to be down into the Gotham/Orlando range and that’s not a good look for the club or the league.
After the Holly debacle and two straight poor seasons Louisville has got to get better, markedly better, and this season. Can they?
I don’t see the sort of breakout attackers the squad needs to do that, outside possibly Shuang and she’s a real enigma to me. Was she “PSG good”?, or was she just promise that never panned out in France?
A lot depends on Monaghan and Erceg and Pickett putting some steel into the awful defense, too. If the scorers aren’t going to go wild the goal-rain has to stop.
I’m not confident saying this club is likely to stumble along again in 2023. But I see no reason to presume a shockingly better season from them, either.
Better – maybe 6th or 7th – but still either out of or barely in the playoffs…and if 6th a quick exit.
Will they be dangerous? I don’t think so. They still don’t look like they have a real golden-boot-grade striker, and I’ll need to see them defending before I believe they’re still not a sieve in back.
Can the Thorns beat them? Yes. They lost both meetings to the Thorns last year, and I don’t think they’ve improved enough to do more than steal a point off Portland presuming we return in 2022 form.
Next up: The Walk of Shame