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Red Stars will have a new rival in expansion Racing Louisville

It’s all thanks to Louisville’s additions of Yuki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill.

Christy Holly had a clear vision in mind when he set out to lay the foundation for his new team, Racing Louisville FC. He wanted to establish an identity rooted in flexibility and players who can adapt and adjust to the talent level across the NWSL. An unshakeable work ethic was also key, along with a blue-collar approach.

All those factors considered, it makes sense why Holly chose to build his team around forwards Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato.

“[Rory Dames and Arnim Whisler] made it clear they wanted to protect their national-team players,” Holly said. “We were cognizant of that and wanted to be respectful of that but at the same time, there is a cost to that.”

McCaskill and Nagasato add fuel to a rivalry that has been burning since Racing Louisville FC was announced as the new expansion team. Now, fans have to sit back and enjoy what Holly said will be an exciting and healthy battle between the two clubs.

“I think those will be the dates we look for when the schedule comes out,” Holly said. “I’m sure it will be a hot talking point, and I’m sure Rory and I will have a little back and forth as well. We’ll have fun with it, but I think rivalries are great, and it’ll be great for the NWSL.”

There are advantages to the club’s closeness in the Midwestern market, including broadening both of their fan bases and increasing market share. Nagasato and McCaskill will certainly help with fan crossover.

The reoccurring sentiment among players and staff is that expansion drafts are bittersweet. Dames said it’s critical for the league’s growth that expansion teams are competitive, but losing players is hard.

McCaskill and Nagasato, who were both key pieces of the group that led the Red Stars to the NWSL Championship Game in 2019, give Louisville a solid start at building a competitive roster.

“We needed to make our presence felt,” Holly said. “We needed to be felt across the league, and bringing in two players like that we felt was a great statement. I think that will fuel [the rivalry] as well.”

Racing Louisville’s preparation for the expansion draft has been significantly affected by the pandemic. Holly said his coaching staff would have already traveled to Europe to see different players in person under typical circumstances, but COVID-19 has prevented that. They also would have been in attendance at NWSL games as well as college games.

Instead, everything has been digital.

The organization held invitational sessions this past week, and Holly jokingly said the team only invited players from Chicago so that Dames couldn’t get them.

“That’s part of the rivalry,” Holly said, laughing.

The truth was that Louisville had 180 applicants from players across the country and had to cut the invite list down to 40 players. Holly said the goal was to see some talent in person and continue building the preseason roster.

“As much as we’re all trying to beat each other, we all need each other,” Holly said. “Growing fan bases, growing rivalries, growing talking points is what builds the profile of the game. Here’s hoping next year’s games between us are very competitive.”