Photo courtesy of Chris Carter

“This group is really on the cusp of something special and if we can get the whole group together and on the field, which we hope to do for Houston we'll be in a really good spot,” Racing general manager Ryan Dell said this week. Dell spoke to Spotrac about Racing’s big re-signing and their approach to the roster, free agency, international signings, and the collegiate draft/youth development. 

This week’s big re-signing: Emma Sears

Just yesterday Racing announced that they had re-signed rookie forward Emma Sears to a new contract, keeping her in Louisville through the 2026 season. Her previous contract was through 2024 with a mutual option for 2025. 

Sears’s previous contract had some triggers in it where she was about to hit them, Dell spoke of the new contract, “We felt it was important to lock her up early.”

“Emma was obviously somebody who's come in, had a one year contract, a potential year two on it and you look at her success, two goals over three starts, 101 yard dribble right against Gotham that ultimately changed the game,” Dell continued. “It probably put Emma Sears on a lot of people's maps in this league.”

Sears additionally set the speed record for Louisville, which is quite an achievement when you think about Thembi Kgatlana and the other players which have been at Racing. “For us, it was a player who's been great in our environment, has grown already and somebody who we wanted to lock up into the future as she continues to have success.”

Racing’s Overarching Approach

Racing Louisville finished ninth in the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) regular season, just four points below the playoff line, and tied for first in draws. Dell was hired right at the start of the 2023 season, and this year the team’s goal is to get out of the nine spot, “continue to grow our roster and get our staff to push into a playoff position.” Alongside the league growth from 12 to 14 teams, the playoffs also extend this season from six to eight. 

“Our biggest goal this offseason was to increase competition across the entire roster,” stated Dell. “We wanted to make our 1 through 26 very competitive [because] the starting group may or may not be the same game to game. We wanted to bring in the most competitive players. We felt bringing in a lot of NWSL experience was important, which is why we brought in Arin Wright. But ultimately, the best word to describe this is depth. We wanted to make sure we provided depth when we had injuries and when you look at our injury report now six players on injury report the last two weeks and the depth that have stepped in and not missed a beat.”

Looking at the minutes played spread from 2023, 74% of Racing’s minutes returned to the squad in 2024, ranking them third in the league in returning minutes.  “It's a young squad,” Dell said in response to keeping the turnover low. “Looking at the team, there's only three players over the age of 30. This team, this club itself is in its fourth season. So for us it was continuing to build on what was successful and then bring in players to compete day to day.”

The philosophy in some sense for Racing is to secure players early in their careers and identify players in the draft. Dell continued, “obviously, we all know Louisville doesn't have the deepest pocketbooks and we're not pretending we do, but having to be very smart because of that is important.”

This offseason wasn’t solely about the player acquisitions, Racing also announced that head coach Kim Björkegren was mutually parting ways with the club just two weeks after the regular season ended. After an exhaustive month-long global search for a new head coach, Racing decided to appoint then-assistant coach Bev Yanez as the new head coach. 

“We've had a great relationship with the players…It starts with trust,” Dell responded when asked how he instilled faith in the players about the transition. “Once you can build that foundation you can go. Obviously, Bev was an assistant here so a lot of people were obviously familiar with her as a coach, as an assistant coach, but it's different being a head coach.We have a great foundation of trust within our group and within our players, and a great line of communication. That's what we pride ourselves on, is creating a player first environment here in Louisville. I think that's helped us attract players from around the league.”

Free Agency

Along with keeping a low turnover rate year over year, Racing has simultaneously done a really good job of getting key re-signings so that defending free agency bidding wars doesn’t come into play, last season giving extensions or new contracts to three players ahead of the free agency roster freeze. Currently, defenders Arin Wright and Abby Erceg both have contracts expiring and potential offseason free agency looming. 

When asked whether there are plans for extensions for Wright and Erceg Dell responded, “[i]t’s something we obviously talked about on a weekly if not daily basis.” 

“We’re trying to figure out right now what our overall roster kind of plan for 2025 is going to be,” he continued. “We've got a plan for the summer that we hope is achievable and we'll go from there.”

Racing was the least active in signing free agents during the offseason, only attaining midfielder Marisa DiGrande, an unrestricted free agent who had previously been playing with Houston and signing her to a two-year contract. “Marisa has been an absolute incredible asset for us,” Dell stated. “She's great in the locker room. Great on the field. You seem to really step in and play well the last few weeks.

“When you go into free agency, it's more expensive and there's bidding wars to re-sign players. So our philosophy is to create that roster a little bit earlier, and then have a plan and go in and execute the plan. We still see value in the draft. This team has been built a lot through the draft, but it's not something we obviously rely on.”

Youth Pipeline - Collegiate Draft, USL-W League, and Racing Academy

Racing is just one of two clubs in the NWSL to have both an academy and an USL-W League team. When asked how the USL-W league team—a pre-professional league—and the academy play into the future plans of the team, Dell responded that in some senses it already had, whereas in other senses it hadn’t.

This past March, as a part of the preseason ramp up, Racing Louisville played in The Women’s Cup tournament in Colombia. Racing used the opportunity to bring two academy players with the squad, both of whom are heading to college this fall. 

The existence of the academy and close relationship gives Racing the opportunity to see players as they develop. Dell stated, “the longer the academy goes, when we look at the infrastructure that’s here, the fields, the growth, the ability for our players, our coaches to go out and see players whether it be in the W-league or the academy on a daily basis.”

“Our Academy is just down the hall from my office, so we're able to communicate with them quite regularly on high performers,” said Dell. “We feel like we're getting a really good run in developing both an academy and a w-league team and utilizing that. Once the draft does go away—I don't think anybody is naive enough to think it's not going to eventually go away—having the w-league here is gonna be a major asset for us.”

Racing’s limited reliance on draft picks has been fairly consistent year-to-year signing three players in 2022 (Jaelin Howell, Savannah DeMelo, Jordyn Bloomer), two players in 2023 (Kayla Fischer, Riley Parker), and two players in 2024 (Reilyn Turner, Emma Sears). Of their five 2022-23 draft signings, four are still in the squad in 2024. 

When it comes to Racing’s choice of players, a lot of research goes into where players that are drafted from certain schools have been successful and they “cast a very wide net.” This past offseason, Racing became the first NWSL team to have a pro day. 

“We brought in players that we felt could help us and we also have our W League, which we see a lot of college players come through that expose them to our facility. So those are all really positive for us. From a draft perspective, first and second round picks are picks that we've seen are incredibly valuable. That's kind of how we've crafted some of our decision making processes.”

International Signings

Last season Louisville became the first team in the NWSL to field a squad with players from six continents, and in general has been acquiring international players from non-traditional locations. With the league expanding the international spots from five to seven, more teams are investing in finding talent abroad. 

“In some senses it's not a perfect process right now on internationals,” stated Dell. “It's something that still requires a lot of work and it's something where, especially with the new technical staff, we've really dove into and it's something we need to dive into further. 

As to how Racing identifies international players, a lot of it comes down to existing relationships that exist between staff and outside of the NWSL. “A lot of it is relationships, whether it's my relationships internationally, whether it's [assistant coach] Carmelina [Moscato] obviously has come from Mexico where her relationships, and what she's seen in that league,” continued Dell. “[Head coach] Bev [Yanez] obviously has played in Japan and other areas. A lot of those are coming from long term relationships that have existed and that we're working to continue to grow.”

Racing’s roster at the moment sits at 24 active players out of the allowed 26, and forward Kirsten Wright can technically come off the 45-Day Injury/Illness list at her earliest convenience as the 45 days expired Monday May 20th. The transfer/trade window doesn’t reopen until August 1st but it will be interesting to see Racing’s summer plan and whether the team can find that final 5% to get them really rolling this season. 



Racing Louisville 2024 Roster

Racing Louisville Transactions

Racing Louisville Draft History