As Racing Louisville strings together wins and continues scoring goals, the gritty, hard work of defending can get lost in the excitement.
But Racing’s defensive effort has played a critical role in pushing the team to three consecutive victories for the first time in the young club’s history.
Two of those three wins were shutouts for Louisville, and both of those shutouts came after Racing took a 2-0 lead into halftime. The final results marked an improvement from two April matches that ended in 2-2 draws after Racing led 2-0 at the break.
“The exciting part is we did learn from those games, and it shows in games like this,” said Racing captain Jaelin Howell, a key piece in her team’s defensive efforts, after the 2-0 win at Kansas City on Saturday. “We’re up 2-0 at half and we come out and we know how to work together defensively, and I think that’s the most exciting part, seeing the growth. It’s huge for the whole team to have such a great back line, and not just the back line but the whole team working hard defensively, getting back. We want to work hard for each other. Our back line is great. Katie Lund made a couple huge saves for us, like she always does.”
The numbers reflect the defensive success Racing (2-2-4, 10 points) has had in recent matches. In a transitional league known for up-and-down games and highlight-reel breakaway goals, Racing’s defensive core has held together.
Lund now has three clean sheets this season, tied for second among NWSL goalkeepers. The Texas native is also second in the league in save percentage (79.5%) and saves per 90 minutes (4.4). Her back-to-back late-game saves at Kansas City were highlight-reel moments to preserve the shutout.
“The saves in the end were totally crazy, but that shows her potential,” said Racing coach Kim Björkegren, “and why she’s going to be a (U.S. Women’s National Team) goalkeeper in the future.”
In front of Lund, center backs Julia Lester and Abby Erceg are first and second, respectively, in blocked shots per 90 minutes, averaging a combined 3.3 blocks a game. Erceg is also fourth in the NWSL in interceptions and sixth in clearances.
Howell, a defensive midfielder, leads the league in interceptions with 18, two ahead of Erceg, and is tied for third in tackles won. Her fellow central midfielder, goal-creating maestro Savannah DeMelo, is ninth in tackles won.
Carson Pickett and Lauren Milliet, Racing’s fullbacks, have been excellent playing in both directions. Pickett is second in the NWSL in scoring chances created, and both her and Milliet rank in the top 40 in the league in FotMob’s average match rating.
“From our forwards to our goalkeeper,” DeMelo said, “we just all play our hearts out for 90 minutes.”
The season is still young, though, as Howell noted Saturday evening. There is much more work to be done and plenty of areas for improvement.
The next opportunity for progress comes this week as Racing prepares for another big test: An 8 p.m. Saturday game against sixth-place North Carolina, Erceg and Pickett’s former team that is a point ahead of Louisville in the NWSL standings and occupying the last spot in playoff position.
“This,” Howell said, “is only the beginning.”