The National Women's Soccer League preseason is underway and Racing Louisville FC are among 12 clubs beginning their journeys to the 2022 season. The 2022 Challenge Cup will kick off on March 18 with the cup final closing on May 7 -- stream matches on Paramount+. After firing their former coach for cause in the middle of its inaugural season, the club is trying to turn things around following a near last place finish in 2021.
The franchise hired Kim Björkegren as its new head coach ahead of the 2022 season and with the hopes that the Swedish football tactician can apply his championship experience to Louisville. Let's take a look at Racing Louisville FC ahead of the 2022 NWSL season:
Finish in 2021: Finishing ninth in a 10-team table is probably par for the course for a team in its inaugural season. The midseason for-cause termination of Christy Holly as head coach casted a shadow over a rocky 5-7-12 season record, with interim coach Mario Sanchez taking over coaching duties. The coaching change didn't inspire any late-season magic, and the lack of defined play may have overshadowed some strong individual performances.
Biggest losses: The club bade farewell to first-ever player acquisitions Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato. McCaskill was traded to Angel City FC and Nagasato traded back to Chicago Red Stars. They also traded the player rights to Christen Press in a midseason trade with Angel City and waived goalkeeper Michele Betos during the offseason.
Biggest acquisitions: The team was loaded with draft picks entering the 2022 draft and made selections to target several positions, including Jaelin Howell (FSU) at No. 2 and Savannah DeMelo (USC) at No. 4. Howell is a defensive mid, and two-time Mac Hermann trophy winner who recently won the NCAA College Cup with FSU while DeMelo brings a strong attacking touch. Both players have U.S. youth international experience.
The team also sought out NWSL experience on the forward line by acquiring Jessica McDonald from North Carolina Courage.
Burning question entering 2022 season
As NWSL prepares to expand once more with two new teams, so will the level of competition across the league. While the midseason coaching change impacted the club, it didn't inspire any change in results. The shift happened while the team was in ninth and they remained in the penultimate spot to close out the season. The reset button was hit in the offseason, with a new coach and talent as well. With the new additions in place, could Racing improve on last year's finish?
What they're saying
Midfielder Lauren Milliet was selected by the club during their expansion draft ahead of the 2021 season. Milliet played in all 24 matches for Louisville in 2021, earning 19 starts during the teams inaugural season. As she prepares to enter her fourth year in the league, she sat down with CBS Sports' "Attacking Third" podcast to discuss being in preseason, and reunited with former Courage teammate Jessica McDonald.
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"I loved playing with Jess [McDonald]," said Milliet. "I think she brings so much in terms of veteran leadership and I love listening to her, and Gemma [Bonner] and people who have been around the block, been in the league a long time just in terms of life lessons. How to deal with stuff outside of soccer, she has such wealth of knowledge."
Who will crack the starting XI
Even with a disjointed inaugural season, some strong individual performances took center stage with breakout performances from outside back Emily Fox and forward Ebony Salmon. As the two players return to the team, expect them to have roles in the starting lineup. Goalkeeper Katie Lund solidified her starting position after slotting in for Betos due to injury.
There will be some expectations on Howell and DeMelo as top draft picks to make an impact, but keep an eye on Parker Goins to also compete for a spot in the attacking line.
With the Challenge Cup approaching, Racing Louisville have narrowed their preseason roster down from 27 players to 24. Forward Cheyna Williams recently announced her pregnancy and is no longer listed on the preseason roster. Defenders lead the positions with eight players listed.
Goalkeepers (4): Hillary Beall, Jordyn Bloomer, Gabby Kouzelos (NRI), Katie Lund
Defenders (8): Gemma Bonner, Sydney Cummings (CDP), Emily Fox, Nealy Martin, Charmé Morgan (CDP), Addisyn Merrick, Erin Simon, Emily Smith (NRI)
Midfielders (6): Savannah DeMelo, Jaelin Howell, Taylor Malham (NRI), Lauren Milliet, Freja Olofsson, Taylor Otto
Forwards (7): Kirsten Davis, Emina Ekic, Parker Goins (NRI), Cece Kizer, Jess McDonald, Nadia Nadim, Ebony Salmon
Expect Racing Louisville to finally establish both a culture and style of play that they weren't able to during the 2021 season. It will lead to a better finish than last season, but might not carry them into the playoffs.