New Racing Louisville FC coach Kim Björkegren can 'almost promise' more goals in 2022

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Soccer coaches and players occasionally use the term “unlucky” to explain bad breaks. Sometimes, a player makes the right decision or move, but the ball bounces the wrong way. That’s sports.

But Kim Björkegren has his own mantra. “Make your luck,” is tattooed across his right hand, near his knuckles.

“I learned you need to make hard work, to make your luck,” the new Racing Louisville FC head coach said Wednesday at Lynn Family Stadium, a half-day after arriving in Louisville for the first time. “It’s about hard work. And over time, you have success.”

Background: Racing Louisville announces new head coach

Björkegren was hired in December by Racing to become the team’s second head coach in as many seasons after the team’s first coach, Christy Holly, was fired for cause in August 2021. In an introductory press conference, Björkegren spoke of improvement for Racing in 2022 and of playing with a more aggressive offense.

In its inaugural 24-game season as an expansion side, Racing scored 21 goals, the second-fewest in the league, and allowed 40 goals, the most, placing 9th overall in the 10-team league.

“I can almost promise we will score more goals,” Björkegren said. “We will attack with more players. We will try to press high a little bit more instead of just sit back and wait. Of course, there will be some games that if you press high and you try to go for it, it can be the opposite as well. ... But I think, over a season and over time, you need to try a little bit more to score goals to entertain your fans, to take three points.”

Kim Björkegren, the new coach of Racing Louisville women's soccer team is introduced at Lynn Family Stadium. Jan. 19, 2022
Kim Björkegren, the new coach of Racing Louisville women's soccer team is introduced at Lynn Family Stadium. Jan. 19, 2022

The 40-year old Swede has seen terrific on-field success over the past five seasons in his native country, in China, and, most recently, in Cyprus, where he led the Apollon Ladies FC to an undefeated season. Racing paid Apollon a small buyout, under $5,000, for Björkegren to depart the Cyprus club and immediately join Racing in December.

He’s remotely worked with Racing, including interim president James O’Connor, over the past month as the team has made moves to construct its 2022 roster, and he recently finalized the work visa process, arriving in Louisville Tuesday night.

The NWSL has added two expansion sides ahead of the 2022 season, bringing the league to 12 teams, with the top six advancing to the playoffs.

“To be honest, it’s not something that we have talked about really. It’s not like a target,” Björkegren said of making the postseason in 2022. “But I’m a winner, I’m used to (winning), and if you’re not top-six, you can’t win, so for me, you need to try to be top-six, for sure.”

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Björkegren, who previously served as a personal coach for Racing star Nadia Nadim, said he’s considered a move to the NWSL, arguably the top league in the world, for six or seven years. And he’s been to the U.S. 25 times, he estimated.

“But never to Louisville, if I pronounce that right,” Björkegren said.

The new coach will be joined by his fiancé, Jolene, and their one-and-a-half year old son, Prince, in February or March. Taking a job in Kentucky, a place he admitted he knows little about, was something he discussed with his family.

“They are my everything, they are the most important, and even if I love football, they will always come first, so if they had said no, I (would) not (have gone),” he said, “but I’m happy they said yes.”

Björkegren has watched each Racing game from last year, and he expects Louisville to play this season more energetically and with a high press, an aggressive tactic that requires Louisville to press the opponent in their own half of the pitch.

Kim Björkegren, the new coach of Racing Louisville women's soccer team is introduced at Lynn Family Stadium. Jan. 19, 2022
Kim Björkegren, the new coach of Racing Louisville women's soccer team is introduced at Lynn Family Stadium. Jan. 19, 2022

“We need to work harder,” he said. “I’m not sure if we’re not fit enough, or it was a game model, and to be honest, I don’t care, but we need to be fit enough to run 90 minutes. We need to have the confidence to have a lot of players inside the box and have a chance to score a goal. We need to try to take the chance, of course, and in a tactical way, have a good defense, as well.”

Björkegren arrives in Louisville less than five months after Holly, the club’s first coach, was abruptly fired midway through Racing's first season. It was a tumultuous 2021 for the NWSL, which saw half of the league’s teams fire coaches for cause, as well as the commissioner, Lisa Baird, step down after reporting from The Athletic detailed a history of sexual coercion and emotional abuse against an NWSL coach, Paul Riley, who was subsequently fired.

O’Connor, the club’s interim president, said last month that the hiring process included an extensive background check from the league. When there were two finalists, Björkegren and another coach, who was a woman, players were involved in the interviews.

“We feel as if we’ve certainly done as much as we possibly could to give everyone confidence about this appointment,” O’Connor said. “It was important to us that the players were able to have some time to ask some questions. Within probably about 10, 15 minutes, it was obvious that the players were in a really good spot with Kim in regards to his passion to win.”

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It's been an offseason of change for Racing. President Brad Estes recently stepped down, and the club has made several personnel moves. Some starters, like co-captains Savannah McCaskill and Michelle Betos, as well as midfielder Yuki Nagasato, will not be returning. But others, like Nadim, Ebony Salmon, Gemma Bonner, Cece Kizer, Emily Fox, former Manual and U of L standout Emina Ekic, and Swedish midfielder Freja Olofsson will be back.

Plus the club added recent draft picks, including Florida State star Jaelin Howell, and a Team USA veteran in Jessica McDonald.

Björkegren hasn’t yet had a chance to meet with the players, but will soon.

“I took a decision to wait a little bit because if I start to talk with three or four players, then I want to give all of the players the same chance,” Björkegren said. “… Now I’m here, and I’ll talk to them, I’ll listen to them, and we’ll go from there.”

The Challenge Cup, Racing's first competition of its second season, begins March 19, but the team begins preseason training on Feb. 1. That's when Björkegren, and Louisville, will begin to make their own luck in 2022.

Hayes Gardner can be reached at; Twitter: @HayesGardner.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Racing Louisville FC coach Kim Björkegren aims for more goals in NWSL

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