Racing Fall Short But Clinches Semifinal Berth
The Racing Louisville women left Shell Energy Stadium in Houston frustrated after a 1-0 loss to the Houston Dash on Saturday. However, results elsewhere ensured the Kentucky club’s place in the UKG NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals for the first time in franchise history.
Racing will play in the cup competition’s knockout stage on September 6th. Their opponent, match location and kickoff time will be determined after next weekend’s final group stage matches. The Challenge Cup final is scheduled for September 9th.
“It is great for our club to be in a cup playoff like this for the first time,” said Racing coach Kim Björkegren. “It shows how far the club has come in the last year and it’s well-deserved after winning four of five in the group stage. But our work isn’t done yet. We want to win our group and host a semifinal at home in front of our great fans.”
Wins by the Washington Spirit and Angel City FC over the weekend mathematically secured Racing’s spot in the semifinals. At worst, Louisville will finish as the fourth best second-place team in the competition’s overall standings. But Racing can still win its group and earn home-field advantage by beating Kansas City on the road this Saturday.
Racing sits atop the Central Division with a 4-1-0 record good for 12 points. They only need a draw against second-place KC (10 points) to clinch first place in the group.
Louisville set the pace early by winning its first four Challenge Cup matches, tying a tournament record. Saturday’s result felt unfortunate after Racing dominated possession and peppered the Houston goal.
“We created chances,” said Björkegren. “We had many situations inside the box, many corners. I’m really proud of the team, even if we lost. They kept fighting and believed in themselves. It was just one of those days…I think we deserved a (draw), maybe more.”
Racing came flying out of the gates, with Kirsten Davis heading a golden chance just over the bar in the 6th minute. Two incredible saves from keeper Katie Lund kept the game scoreless until the 26th minute, when Houston’s Ebony Salmon finally broke through.
Parker Goins narrowly missed equalizing right before halftime and again in the 75th minute. Jaelin Howell forced a goal-line clearance on a 47th minute header off a corner. Lauren Milliet had a goal disallowed for offside in the buildup in the 65th minute.
But Racing’s best opportunity came in the 88th when substitute Dr. Nadia Nadim cut inside and unleashed a curling 15-yard shot that Houston keeper Jane Campbell parried onto the post.
“Obviously disappointing – we really wanted to come in and make a statement and secure a spot in the semifinals at home,” said midfielder Jordan Baggett. “But I’m happy with the chances we created. We’re going to grow off that, learn from it and be hungry next week.”
Despite the result, Racing looked sharp and created more than enough opportunities against a quality opponent. The attack just lacked the final touch on the day. Louisville’s speedy wingers stretched the Dash defense and repeatedly got behind the back line. The service into the box was dangerous, evidenced by the 12 corner kicks.
If not for the heroics of Campbell, who made seven saves en route to player of the match honors, Racing surely would have found an equalizer. The woodwork also denied a late Nadim curler.
The defense limited Houston’s chances despite the concession. Lund made two huge first-half stops to keep it scoreless and the back line cleaned up the rest.
Racing still controls its destiny atop the Central Division as they head to Kansas City. A point would clinch the group. But don’t expect Louisville to play for the draw. This team wants the No. 1 overall seed and the right to host a raucous home semifinal.
If Racing can sharpen its finishing and play a complete match, first place will be theirs. Saturday’s performance showed Louisville is more than capable of making a deep run in its first ever Challenge Cup playoff appearance.
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Photo By: USA Today Sports Images