Racing’s Historic Run Ends With Challenge Cup Final Defeat
Photo: Jaylynn Nash, USA Today Sports Images
Racing Louisville’s sensational Challenge Cup run came to a close on Saturday with a 2-0 loss against the North Carolina Courage in the tournament final.
After a weather delay of over two hours, North Carolina forward Kerolin opened the scoring in the 28th minute. Manaka Matsukubo added a second goal in the 54th minute to seal the Courage’s victory.
Despite the defeat, Louisville can hold their heads high after a month that saw the club reach their first-ever major cup final and make history along the way.
“Reaching the final is still an accomplishment and a credit to the players’ hard work,” said coach Kim Björkegren. “We will take lessons from this experience moving forward.”
Racing rattled the woodwork twice in the second half but couldn’t find a breakthrough. Nadia Nadim saw her header crash off the bar in the 57th minute. Ary Borges forced an excellent diving stop from Courage keeper Casey Murphy in the 77th minute with a blistering half-volley.
Louisville keeper Katie Lund was the star performer, making a Challenge Cup final-record nine saves to keep her team in contention.
Racing opened the tournament in record-tying fashion, winning their first four group-stage matches. They went on to defeat OL Reign in the semifinals to book a date with North Carolina. Despite falling short in the final, Racing showed immense growth by knocking off NWSL powers Portland and OL Reign over the past two weeks. This young club continues to hit new milestones at a rapid rate under Björkegren’s leadership. Competing for championships is becoming a regular occurrence.
“We will take so many lessons from this experience that will serve us well going forward,” said defender Abby Erceg. “The future is bright for this club.”
The 12:30 PM EST kickoff on a Saturday, unfortunately, robbed the final of some of its prestige. The atmosphere also suffered due to an underwhelming crowd turnout. For a cup final, the whole occasion felt lacking. The weather delay did not help matters either. Was this the only timeslot that CBS offered the NWSL? Was it to avoid the North Carolina heat? What would have happened if this game had been in Seatle; would it have kicked off at 9:30 AM local time? Was WakeMed Soccer Park only Available at this time?
Racing now shifts focus to closing out the regular season strong. They sit just two points outside the playoff places with four games remaining. After proving themselves on the big stage, Louisville aims to carry that momentum into a successful playoff push.
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