NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt is used to competing and beating the best of the best. Now it is afforded the opportunity to see how it measures up against those who do it at the professional level.
Vanderbilt Soccer and Racing Louisville FC announced Thursday morning an exhibition match March 7 at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex.
“It gives us a real challenge and we’ll find out what we’re made of,” Vanderbilt head coach Darren Ambrose said. “It will also give us some holes that we’ll have to fix if we want to do well in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. All around, it’s a win-win for us.”
Racing Louisville FC is beginning its first season of competition inside the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the highest level of women’s professional soccer in the United States. The club is led by manager Christy Holly.
When Holly recently spoke to Ambrose about the Commodores and some current student-athletes the Racing Louisville FC club may look to scout in the future, the discussion shifted to the possibility of a friendly fixture to prepare each side for their respective seasons.
The NWSL Challenge Cup is scheduled to begin April 9 followed by the league’s regular season start date of May 15. Vanderbilt, the reigning SEC Tournament champion, is scheduled to make its official 2021 debut March 11 against Kennesaw State.
Ambrose said that not only will the matchup with RLFC challenge his squad, but it will also open his roster’s eyes as to it takes to be a professional.
“We have athletes that have the aspiration to reach the next level and our goal is to help get them there,” Ambrose said. “We want to create an environment that demands the most of those who have ambitions to play beyond college. By doing so, it raises the bar for every athlete in the program. It’s up to them to raise their level to the standard we know to be successful and that their teammates demand that of each other.
“We want to give them exposure to the professional level in this country; to be able to say ‘This is what it looks like.’ Hopefully some of them can shine, hold their own and start to create a profile for themselves that shows they’re capable of moving on to that level.”
On a broader scale, taking the pitch against Racing Louisville – and possibly against other professional clubs in the future – will play a large role in recruiting future Commodores. Ambrose said he’s hearing more and more potential student-athletes ask the same questions those on the football field, hardwood or diamond are asking: “Can you help me get to the next level?”
Women’s soccer as a sport is witnessing excellent growth at the professional level across the globe and youth stars in America now have realistic dreams of earning a living playing the sport they love.
Vanderbilt can be the bridge between a prep career and a professional one that it was for Simone Charley of the Portland Thorns and senior Myra Konte, a 2021 NWSL draftee of the North Carolina Courage.
“Not only can you come to Vanderbilt, get a world-class education and earn a spring board into the next chapter of your life with an influential network of people around you, but maybe being a professional soccer player is now a career you can aspire to as well here. Realistically, this can become a pathway to the pros,” Ambrose said. “If you’ve got it in you and you’ve got that desire, we believe our program is one that can develop and elevate you. It has the national profile, we’re seeing consistent success and you’re going to get exposure to that next level.
“We want to show that our program is moving in that direction and becoming one of those programs that’s regularly placing athletes into professional careers. The additional bonus is the Vanderbilt degree you earned will also be in your back pocket when you eventually need it.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.