The playoff push is on in the National Women's Soccer League. There are just four weeks remaining in the 2023 regular season and teams just outside of the playoff line are running out of time to clinch their place among the top six. Seventh-place Racing Louisville FC is coming off a runner-up finish in the 2023 Challenge Cup and currently sits just two points away from a playoff position. They'll have to get through the Houston Dash on Friday if they want to stay in contention. Fans can watch all the action on Paramount+.
Here's what you need to know before the game:
- Date: Friday, Sept. 15 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Lynn Family Stadium -- Louisville, Kentucky
- Stream: Paramount+
- Odds: Louisville +104; Draw +229; Houston +249
Down the stretch
Louisville have been within striking distance of the postseason picture for weeks but just hasn't been able to make the leap and stay in the upper half of the 12-team table. They could be turning the corner finally, but it hasn't been easy, coming off a heavy match load with two wins against three contenders.
"We had a tough, long week last week. We played three games in a week," said Louisville head coach Kim Bjorkegren.
"Pretty tough games against three, maybe best teams in the league, with Portland, Reign, and North Carolina. So, of course, it was a tough situation for us. We are proud of our performances in the Challenge Cup to start with. We had a couple of days off, it was necessary for both the staff and for the players. But now we feel ready to jump into the next game and it's a really, really, important game. One of the most important games for the club in history, I will say. So we are going for three points against Houston. We know it's going to be tough, we normally have really close games against them."
There's familiarity between Houston and Lousiville as they head into their fourth fixture against each other this year. They've faced each other twice in the Central Region of the Challenge Cup group stage, but the final regular meeting between the two sides is an opportunity for both teams to better their chances of shaking up the playoff picture.
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Houston's next step
The Dash recently. Hired in 2022, Laity was tasked with building off Houston's 2022 quarterfinal appearance, but the team had struggled to establish an identity under Laity, lacked a consistent style and is currently in tenth place. Dash has promoted assistant Sarah Lowdon, perhaps in a last-gasp effort to push for the playoffs. Stranger things have happened, and Bjorkegren understands Houston's position.
"That will make it maybe a little bit more difficult. We don't know their formation and how they will start but at the end of the day, we need to focus on ourselves and make sure we do everything to bring in another three points and work hard to make the playoffs," he said.
Bjorkegren also confirmed to the media that midfielder Jaelin Howell is likely a game-day decision. She's been out managing a recent hip injury. Carson Pickett has also been on the injury report, and her presence was missed during their recent Challenge Cup loss as she's second on the team in chances created (25). The team will look to her outside back partner Lauren Milliet to help extend the attack. She has the ability to cover lots of ground while staying involved in attacking sequences.
Dash recently sent Ebony Salmon to Aston Villa in a transfer and will be without Michelle Alozie due to a red card suspension she sustained against San Diego Wave FC. Two major pieces missing in the attack means Houston will likely continue their reliance on Maria Sanchez. The Mexican international has been the bright spot on offense this season. She leads the team in goals scored (four), assists (two) and chances created (18).