PORTLAND, Ore. — When new sports teams start, the branding that jumps out first. At the beginning, that’s all they have. Until the players come and the games kickoff, it’s the name, the colors, the crest and the look that fans can the judge. The first public choice any organization makes is how it presents itself to the world.
In that regard, Racing Louisville FC is off to a great start. Though the name they chose may not please those who prefer American naming conventions, “Racing Lou” works on a simple, engaging level. The team’s floral-print lavender and black jerseys have been a refreshing addition to the rest of the league's looks, and while the light show celebrating goals at home games may be a photographer’s nightmare, it seems to have been a hit with everyone else.
Outside the lines, Racing’s has been a positive start. On the field, too, the team is already making progress. After finishing Challenge Cup at the bottom of the East Division, going 0-2-2 in four games, Louisville has four points through their first three regular-season matches. On May 21, head coach Christy Holly’s team recorded the first win in the club’s history, defeating the Washington Spirit 2-0 at Lynn Family Stadium.
“I’ve got a huge respect for the job that they’ve been doing,” Portland Thorns FC Mark Parsons said about Louisville in this week’s prematch press conference. “I love seeing how much [the organization] has supported this team, and the facilities, and the resources, and the staff, and the structure. I think they have really come in and treated people as pros in all areas. A huge respect for that.”
This Saturday, the NWSL’s newest team will be making their first visit to the NWSL’s most famous venue, and when they kickoff against Portland Thorns FC (7:30 p.m. PT, Twitch), they’ll do so with a number of players who will be familiar to the Rose City faithful.
The most familiar will be the team’s captain, Michelle Betos. When, after three seasons in Portland, Betos left Thorns FC after the 2016 season, she did so as a fan favorite, with her 2015 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year honor complementing one of the most famous goals in club history:
Since leaving Portland, Betos has played in Australia, Norway, and spent three seasons with OL Reign, and after being selected in this winter’s expansion draft, she has been given Racing’s captain’s armband, So far, she's played every minute of the club's existence.
In terms of field players, two of Racing’s most important were acquired in a trade before their expansion draft. The Chicago Red Stars, hoping to retain a number of players who had to be left exposed in expansion, traded attackers Yuki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill to Louisville in order to protect the rest of the roster. With the trade, Louisville got two pieces they could build their first attack around.
Since joining the NWSL in 2017, Nagasato has been a consistent source of goals and assists. In 55 regular season games, the 132-time Japan international has 13 goals and 17 assists, and in her last full regular season (2019), she was a key part of a Red Stars team that reached their first NWSL final.
McCaskill, one of her teammates that season, was the second-overall draft pick coming out of the University of South Carolina in 2018. She has four goals and four assists in her 44 career regular season games but has also made six appearances for the United States senior women’s national team, and like Nagasato, McCaskill can start at almost any attacking position.
Photo credit: Lee Klafczynski/ISI Photos
Another player who deserves a mention here is Emily Fox. After the defender’s second month as a professional, Fox was chosen to the league’s May of the Month, and over Racing’s first seven games, the U.S. international has started each one. Over the course of her time at the University of North Carolina, Fox played like a potential foundational piece for an NWSL team. Early returns are bearing that out.
In their last game, Racing was given a harsh dose of NWSL reality, losing 5-0 at a North Carolina Courage team that was celebrating the return of one of their own U.S. internationals, midfielder Sam Mewis. In that respect, this weekend’s trip to Providence Park feels like a particularly unenviable task, particularly given the travel problems Louisville encountered.
Still, Racing had kept back-to-back clean sheets before that North Carolina wakeup, and in terms of starts to a team’s first regular season, 1-1-1 is a record to be proud of.
“I think they’ve been smart in how they’re organizing their team - how they’re bringing out the qualities of a few of their special players,” Parsons said. “They’re a team. They’re a team that’s ready to work together, to defend together, to attack together. Of course, that’s what everyone hopes to be, but Louisville are that.”
A result at Providence Park is a big ask, but in some ways, big asks are what an expansion season is all about. It’s time for Louisville’s first crack at the Portland Thorns.