Despite coaching change, Racing Louisville FC’s season has been a major success

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Racing Louisville FC is having an unprecedented debut season — one that would have been the envy of expansion clubs everywhere until the unceremonious (and still mysterious) firing of Christy Holly.

Despite the unexpected coaching change, it’s still been a season to remember for the club, the highlight of which was winning the Women’s Cup. A little over a year after announcing the club’s name and colors, Racing Louisville FC lifted its first trophy as a team in front of their home crowd at Lynn Family Stadium.

Hosting the Cup, which welcomed the Chicago Red Stars, FC Bayern Munich and PSG to Louisville in the club’s first year, would’ve been impressive enough, but Racing went on to win the four-team competition in dramatic fashion. The moment highlighted just how swift Racing Louisville’s rise through the league has been.

Racing Louisville entered the NWSL in 2021 after first announcing the development of an expansion club in October 2019. Team officials moved quickly to acquire top talent before the 2021 season, executing a trade with Chicago for Yuki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill. The trade has clearly paid off, with both Nagasato and McCaskill establishing themselves as reliable franchise cornerstones.

Racing continued to build out their squad, selecting the likes of Michelle Betos and CeCe Kizer in the expansion draft. The club also acquired the rights to Tobin Heath and Christen Press, a gamble that ended in Racing trading Press to NWSL expansion club Angel City FC for Los Angeles’ first-round pick in 2022, $75,000 in allocation money, and full roster protection from the club in the expansion draft in December.

For the players that have taken the pitch for Louisville, perhaps none has shown up quite like Michelle Betos. It’s no secret that the league veteran knows how to perform at the highest level, winning NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2015 during her stint with the Portland Thorns. However, Betos seems to have reached a new level in her first year with Louisville. The 33-year-old currently leads the league with 83 saves and four clean sheets, keeping Racing in close games all season long.

International additions Ebony Salmon and Nadia Nadim have added a jolt of energy to Louisville with their respective June and July debuts. At 20 years old, Salmon has quickly emerged as one of the most disruptive forwards in the league. The English striker has scored five goals in her ten appearances with Racing, adding her name to the scoresheet in three of Louisville’s four wins this season. She’s currently No. 2 on Just Women’s Sports’ rankings of the league’s top rookies.

Nadim has likewise had an impressive start with the club as well, notching two goals in her first four matches.

The team’s developing success on the pitch is matched by the investment in facilities and resources off the field. In July, Louisville unveiled the Lynn Family Sports Vision & Training Center on social media, showcasing the club’s $15 million state-of-the-art facility.

“I entered the women’s professional league in 2013. We had a classroom as a locker room. We brought our clothes in. We wore them for training, then brought them home to clean them. That was my professional experience,” said Betos during the Training Center’s debut.  “To be totally honest, it wasn’t until I came to Louisville that I felt like a true professional.”

Racing’s investment in top-notch facilities has legitimized its place in a league that has previously deprioritized adequate playing environments (see Sky Blue FC).  Louisville’s effort to build from the ground up has now set the standard for future clubs entering the NWSL.

The final piece of the puzzle for Racing is the committed Louisville fan base. The team played to a COVID-constricted sold-out crowd of 5,300 for its debut match in Lynn Family Stadium. According to Soccer Stadium Digest, attendance has only grown since then, with Racing Louisville averaging 6,417 at Lynn Family Stadium. Louisville is second only to powerhouse Portland in attendance, which welcomes an average of 15,321 guests to Providence Park per game. Those numbers are impressive for a club’s first year in the league and speaks to the soccer community Louisville is tapping into and helping to cultivate.

Fresh off the Women’s Cup win, Racing Louisville FC has put the NWSL on notice. While the near future may be consumed with discussion of what happened to force Holly out the door, it would be a mistake to not look at the bigger picture and realize that this season has been a smashing success for the expansion club. With an invested community and a promising roster, the future is looking bright for the team in lavender.