As the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby finishes up Saturday night, Racing Louisville will be in Orlando, hoping the races have only just begun.
Racing (0-1-4, 4 points) will take on the hosting Orlando Pride at 7 p.m. ET Saturday at Exploria Stadium in central Florida, the first match in a busy May schedule for the Louisvillians.
Louisville has provided no shortage of entertainment so far this season, with three 2-2 draws and five solid performances against the toughest schedule in the National Women’s Soccer League, according to Field of Vision’s strength of schedule analytics. But the goal for coach Kim Björkegren’s squad as the calendar turns to May is changing those solid-performance draws into solid-performance wins.
“We’re right there – that’s what we keep saying,” captain Jaelin Howell said this past weekend. “We know we’re a great team. We know how good we are, and not getting results is tough. We know we should be. That’s the next step – three points. Every game we’re closer and closer.”
To get a positive result Saturday night, Racing will have to do so without star midfielder Savannah DeMelo, who is suspended from the match after receiving a red card from two yellow cards in the 2-2 tie with OL Reign this past Saturday. Louisville does have a variety of options to fill in for DeMelo, though the 25-year-old Californian has been in top form to start the season, with two goals, one assist, 20 fouls won and nine chances created. Rookie Kayla Fischer, Australian international Alex Chidiac and Chinese international Wang Shuang are all candidates to start in DeMelo’s central midfield spot.
Orlando (1-4-0, 3 points) notched its first win of the season in impressive fashion on Saturday night, topping hosts San Diego, 3-1, at a crowded Snapdragon Stadium. The Pride’s three goals were the most scored by a visitor at San Diego since the Wave’s introduction to the NWSL last year.
Seb Hines’s squad is built around Brazilian forwards Marta and Adriana, who had a goal and an assist in the win over San Diego. The duo pairs with young standouts Ally Watt and Messiah Bright in the attack. Center back Emily Madril, the fourth overall pick in this year’s NWSL Draft, played for Racing’s W League team last summer and was a college teammate of Louisville captain Jaelin Howell.
This will be the sixth meeting between Racing and Orlando, with Louisville winning two while drawing two others. Racing has secured more points against Orlando than any other team in the NWSL since joining the league in 2021.
• The game will be streamed live on Paramount+, and international viewers may watch for free on NWSLSoccer.com.
Story lines …
Turning a New Paige: Acquired via trade this offseason, Paige Monaghan made her first start of the year on Saturday vs. OL Reign, scoring her debut goal for Racing Louisville in the seventh minute. The 26-year-old winger was a menace all game, leading the team with four shots – three on target – and winning possession back twice in the attacking third. Monaghan, who spent her first four years as a pro with NJ/NY Gotham FC, came off the bench through the first four matches, totaling 109 minutes.
Chasing the breakthrough: Racing Louisville has lost four points from winning positions so far this season, twice drawing after taking 2-0 leads into halftime, standing as the unfortunate league leader in that category. But Racing is also the first team to ever put seven shots on target against OL Reign, an impressive feat against one of the league’s most successful clubs since its inception. Racing is third in the league in first-half goals, with four in five matches.
Taking the toughest path: Racing has played the toughest strength of schedule to start the season, according to Field of Vision analytics. The first five games included road games against the reigning NWSL champs (Portland), a playoff team (Houston) and in one of the toughest road environments (Los Angeles), plus home games against reigning regular-season champion (OL Reign) and fourth-place Washington. Racing earned four points in that stretch, tying four of five matches and claiming two valuable points away from home.
DeMelo delivers: Standout midfielder Savannah DeMelo once again made the highlight reel with a 20-yard half-volley as she retreated from the box, setting, turning and firing all in one motion while starting her move with her back to the goal. The second-year player now leads the team with two goals to go with an assist, and she leads the league in fouls won, with 20.
League leaders: Racing leads the NWSL in interceptions (70) and fouls won (59), thanks in large part to a few key contributors. Defender Abby Erceg has a league-best 16 interceptions, three ahead of second-place Jaelin Howell’s 13. Savannah DeMelo has drawn 20 fouls, seven better than anyone else in the league, and Lauren Milliet is fifth with 11 fouls won.
Global Racing: Racing Louisville is the first club in NWSL history to feature players from six different continents on its roster. The Louisvillians already had an international flavor last year, with four continents represented. But the additions of Brazilian midfielder Ary Borges as well as Nigerian forward Uchenna Kanu and South African forward Thembi Kgatlana nudged Racing to six continents. Abby Erceg, New Zealand’s all-time caps leader, reinforced Australian midfielder Alex Chidiac as a second representative from Oceania.
World Cup year: This is a big year for women’s soccer, with the 2023 FIFA World Cup set for Australia and New Zealand from July 20-August 20. Racing should be well-represented at the planet’s biggest competition. There are nine current internationals on Racing’s roster, and seven of their countries have qualified for the World Cup. The NWSL will only play one regular-season game in the World Cup window, instead scheduling half of the NWSL UKG Challenge Cup matches for that period.