For Christy Holly, it took one phone call for his interest in Racing Louisville FC to perk up.
“James O’Connor called me out of the blue,” Holly remembers. “We had a great conversation, but thirty seconds in he said ‘tell me about your family’. That told me immediately what was important to them. The emphasis on community and the ambition of the club was immediately clear. They see themselves going places, and that sold it for me. We’re link-minded people that want to provide Louisville with world-class soccer.”
Now two months on the job, Holly and Racing Louisville are entrenched in building their roster ahead of next season’s league debut. Holly says the club has aimed not only to acquire the world’s best, but those that can contribute to Louisville off the field as well.
“We’re looking for players that want to be what we are,” said Holly. “We want players that work well on both sides of the ball, players that can contribute in many different ways. Additionally, we want outstanding citizens that not only contribute on the field but provide for the community. We want our players to provide the young players of Louisville with role models that look up to.”
That search got off to a flying start with the acquisition of Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato in late October. In bringing two stars of Chicago’s 2019 Championship appearance, Holly was beyond pleased with Louisville’s first move.
“Yuki led the league in assists, and Savannah is one of the top young creative players in this league,” said Holly. “To add the draft pick and international spot was absolutely huge for us, too. It gives us a good foundation to build upon in two players that were very fond of. They both have a skillset that meets the profile of players that we’re trying to bring in.”
Racing additionally added Jamaican international Cheyna Matthews off the league’s re-entry list, making her the third of the club’s inaugural batch of signings. Holly says that Matthews’ versatility and skillset are a perfect fit in Louisville – and the club will support her as she expects her second child in December.
“We won’t rush her – we’ll support her the whole way, and when she’s back on the field we can sit down and see what a contract looks like,” said Holly. “We’re excited. We’re delighted to have someone of her caliber and character, and want to make this a period of time for her where there’s one less thing to worry about.”
Tonight, Holly and Racing take the next step in their project in the form of the league’s expansion draft. For the many ever-evolving variables that abound tomorrow’s draft, one sticks out – the arrival of Angel City FC.
“You’re looking for players that you can put on the field next year to compete week in, week out, but give you the foundation to build for years to come,” said Holly. “We have to be diligent about the building around players and assets that help us fend off being picked apart next time around. Some players might want to end up in Los Angeles, and we have to use that information to the best of our ability.”
It’s not only the prospect of protecting players down the line that factors into the assessment of a draft pick, says Holly. It’s the point that they’re at in their careers, and if their ambition matches the level that he and Racing Louisville have set as an organization.
“I would be incredibly short-sighted if I only planned for 2021,” said Holly. “When you look past the likes of Press, Sauerbrunn, Heath – there’s a lot of solid, younger players. We’ve moved away from the high-profile names – everyone’s called us to say that a lot of these players are going to retire six months prior to the Olympics. So, we analyze the younger players to see what their journey is and how hungry they are. That’s the key – players that are hungry enough to get involved in this project and want to look beyond 2021 with us.”
Holly says that he’s also leaned on calls with fellow coaches in the build up to tonight’s selection process – but, amidst “games being played”, admits that it takes some work to sort out truth from fiction.
“I think how much their opinion informs mine depends on who it is and their skin in the game,” said Holly. “Some tell me a story and I think ‘That is just a wonderful story. That is an absolute tremendous rumor’. I take it with a grain of salt and move on. Everything right now is about self-preservation. Some owners even tell their players to let us know they don’t want to come to Louisville. I have respect for a lot of GM’s and coaches, but I know they are looking after their interests – and what they tell me has to pass through a filter of what is best for them.”
Racing Lousiville will participate in the league’s first Expansion Draft since 2015 live on Twitch tonight at 7pm Eastern. Live coverage can be found on the NWSL’s official channel.