Preseason is underway as clubs gather to prepare for the upcoming 2021 NWSL season. Racing Louisville FC, the league's newest expansion club, have officially kicked off their first ever preseason camp. The roster, largely composed from the expansion draft, is a mix of NWSL veterans, up and coming prospects, and international signings. Head coach Christy Holly has repeatedly said he wants to ensure that Louisville is ready to compete come match day one, so let's take a look at how the team plans to do that.
Holly was hired as Louisville's head coach to lead the team though its first year as an expansion club and beyond. As the first ever preseason for Racing is now underway, there is a ton a new enthusiasm.
"We're establishing a club. We're trying to build out the identity of this club, and and they to the embed what we feel it's important for us in the long term and, ultimately, that's a mindset, the mentality, in terms of how we approach practice and how we approach our games," said Holly.
Establishing a culture and identity for the club is just phase one according to Holly and he hopes that set formations and tactics will soon follow as preseason gets in full swing and players get more time together.
"I mean, for me it's, it's not just on the field, it's just a way of life. It's, it's a growth, it's a growth mindset that is really based upon pushing yourself to the limit as much as you possibly can. So yeah there's, there's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of meetings that we've had. But the one thing that we're not skipping by is in terms of how we manage the time in practice. Once we are able to get through the next two, three, weeks and we establish what the roster looks like on a more consistent basis, then we can we can really start adding some tactical nuances within our game in terms of how we want to approach certain opponents. The hope is that, as we become accustomed to the league, and people become accustomed to what we're doing in the league, there should be some characteristics to our play that should be consistent and noticeable."
Three things we know
Lauren Milliet was selected seventh overall during Racing Louisville's expansion draft from North Carolina Courage. She was previously selected by NC Courage in the 2019 NWSL Draft and played in 10 matches over her first two seasons in the NWSL. Regarded as a player with high ceiling, she was a standout during the 2020 Fall Series where she played 417 minutes primarily alongside Brazilian international Debinha, and recorded one assist over her four appearances. Here are three things she told us about her new team's preparation.
On early preseason environment: "I think it's been really exciting. You're on the field and meet everybody. It's definitely been like a long time coming. I think everybody's been really anxious to get on the pitch so the first couple of days have been really great. The energy is really high, the intensity has been really high, and it's really nice to meet everyone and get to know everyone, and how they play, and their playing style."
Players she's excited to play with: "I definitely think there are a lot of players I was really excited to play with, Savannah McCaskill was one of them. Yuki Nagasato was one of them. I've watched them in the league I think they're both really creative players and just something like I'd like to tag along with. And CeCe Kaiser, I think she's a really creative talented player that I'm excited to kind of work in the midfield with."
Biggest take away from preseason sessions: "Yeah, I think there's a real onus on intensity and everything being done. You know 100% all the time which like I'm really all about, and I think that that's really important especially with a new team. It's just like the quality will come, but the intensity is something that we've like really been zeroing in on, especially these first [few] days and hopefully that will continue for the rest of the preseason."
One thing we don't know
The excitement for new players and new opportunities is contagious, though there are some players missing from the preseason roster. Australian internationals Alanna Kennedy and Caitlyn Foord are currently playing in Europe with Tottenham and Arsenal, with Kennedy converting her initial loan deal to a permanent transfer for the FA WSL season.
U.S. women's soccer mainstays Tobin Heath and Christen Press are also currently under contract with Manchester United. Press has recently returned to form and is set to feature with the USWNT during SheBelieves Cup while Heath is recovering from an ankle injury expected to sideline her 10 to 12 weeks. Their futures with Louisville are currently unknown.
"We've built the team and everybody wants to know what we want to do with them [Press & Heath]. You built the the team in order to have the best players in the world here. That's our hope, that's what we want to do, and ultimately we want players playing here that want to represent at the club. We put a platform out there, and the interest that's generated for players worldwide has been, it's been overwhelming. It's been fantastic that players want to be at this club and our intention is to give that platform to those players that want to be here. You know, and everybody wants to know about Tobin and Christen. And so do we. We're psyched. We can't wait to find out more about them and what their long term intentions are."
Preseason will run through April as teams prepare for the upcoming Challenge Cup which will kick off on April 9 with the regular NWSL season kicking off on May 15. During the two month long preseason clubs will likely have scrimmage matches set up with local university and college sides should all appropriate COVID protocols be in place and pending league approval.
The preseason roster
The 30 player roster will eventually have to be narrowed down ahead of the Challenge Cup and the start of the regular NWSL season. The current preseason participants consist of players acquired through trades, offseason signings, non-roster invitees, trialists, and both expansion and NWSL drafts. Forwards lead the way with 10 players listed at the position.
Goalkeepers (4): Brooke Bollinger (NRI), Michelle Betos, Katie Lund, Shelby Money (NRI)
Defenders (8): Julia Ashley, Molly Dwyer (NRI), Emily Fox (CDP), Brooke Hendrix, Nealy Martin (NRI), Addisyn Merrick, Kaleigh Riehl (NYR), Erin Simon
Midfielders (8): Chinyelu Asher (NRI), Grace Bahr (NRI), Lauren Milliet, Noelle Higginson (NRI), Alex Kimball (NRI), Freja Olofsson (NYR), Taylor Otto (CDP), Savanah Uveges (NRI)
Forwards (10): Jorian Baucom (NRI), Vanessa Kara (NRI), Emina Ekic (CDP), Alex Genas (NRI), Anika Kallash (NRI), Cece Kizer, Cheyna Matthews (NYR), Katie McClure, Savannah McCaskill, Yuki Nagasato
Key: CDP – 2020 NWSL College Draft Pick, NRI – Non-Roster Invitee, NYR – Not Yet Reported to Camp