NWSL 2023: Gotham FC embraces the underdog label

This offseason, Gotham FC entered yet another rebuilding period following a miserable 2022 season. The club hopes that its new head coach and players can mesh with those returning from last year to lead Gotham out of the basement and into the NWSL playoffs for only the third time in team history.

Last year, Gotham finished in last place with a 4-17-1 record, picking up only 13 regular-season points and conceding 30 more goals than it scored. The team did not fare any better in the Challenge Cup, exiting that competition in the group stage. In addition to a porous defense, the players' lack of on-field chemistry reportedly contributed to Gotham’s poor outcomes.

Former head coach Scott Parkinson was fired on Aug. 11, 2022 with the team off to a 4-8-0 start. The team’s performance further declined under interim head coach Hue Menzies, failing to win any of the season’s final 10 games. Its offensive struggles were illustrated by the fact that forwards Paige Monaghan and Midge Purce and midfielder McCall Zerboni tied for the team lead with a meager three goals.

After the season, Gotham hired new head coach Juan Carlos Amoros, who led the Houston Dash to its first NWSL playoff appearance as its interim head coach. Goalkeeper coach Brody Sams is staying on staff, but Amoros hired new assistants Shaun Harris, Ak Lakhani and Jen Lalor, as well as new strength and conditioning coach Adrian Benítez Jimenez and head of tactical analysis Jesus Botello Hermosa.

Seeking to drastically improve its defensive personnel, Gotham started its offseason transactions with a big move. On Nov. 15, two-time World Cup champion and one-time NWSL champion Kelley O’Hara announced her agreement on a two-year contract with Gotham. The Washington Spirit player made history, becoming the first NWSL free agent to sign with a new team, and marked a return for the 34-year-old O’Hara, who played for Gotham from 2013 to 2017. If healthy,  she will likely slot into the starting lineup at right-back and be asked to play a major role in helping the club turn things around. 

O’Hara is not the only veteran player coming to Gotham’s aid. Defender/midfielder Kristen Edmonds, 35, signed with her home state team on a two-year free-agent contract after spending the last two years with the Kansas City Current. While O’Hara and Edmonds bring experience, Nealy Martin offers youthful potential. The club acquired the 24-year-old defender off waivers from Louisville and proceeded to sign her to a one-year contract with an option for 2024.

Gotham also added offensive reinforcements this offseason.

The club signed Icelandic forward Svava Ros Gudmundsdottir to a two-year contract to provide attacking depth. Gudmundsdottir, who scored six goals in 22 games last season for Norway’s top-flight winner SK Brann.

But the big move was a blockbuster trade for Lynn Williams from the Kansas City Current in exchange for the second pick in the 2023 NWSL draft. The three-time NWSL champion, who missed most of last season with an injury, returned to action for the U.S. women’s team earlier this year and is set to fill Gotham’s gaping need for a goalscorer. 

Gotham acquired 2022 NWSL champion Yazmeen Ryan, 24, from the Portland Thorns in a four-team trade. Ryan, who had two goals and five assists in 20 games last year, stands to improve Gotham’s midfield with her talent and winning pedigree. Before the draft, Gotham traded for the fourth pick from Louisville in exchange for Monaghan, $150,000 in allocation money and a 2023 international roster slot. With the fourth pick, the club selected Florida State midfielder Jenna Nighswonger. If she makes the team, she will offer another offensive weapon as she finished her collegiate career with a six goal, 16 assist season. Gotham has already waived the rights to the 44th-pick, Arizona midfielder Iliana Hocking

Goalkeepers Michelle Betos and Ashlyn Harris split time last season with Betos taking over following Harris’s season-ending knee injury. Harris retired after the season, so the team signed  free-agent Abby Smith to a three-year contract. Smith, who has prior NWSL starting experience, will compete with holdover Betos to be the team’s starting goalkeeper.

Players not returning to Gotham include Jenna Bike, who signed with Chicago after her contract was not renewed, along with out of contract midfielders Nicole Baxter and Jennifer Cudjoe and forward Kumi Yokoyama. Free-agent defender Estelle Johnson signed with the North Carolina Courage; defender Domi Richardsons option was not picked-up; forward Cameron Tucker was claimed off waivers by Houston; and defender Kelly Ann Livingstone signed with Danish club Fortuna Hjørring.

Gotham has been conducting preseason training at IMG Academy in Florida. The team lost 2-0 in a scrimmage against the Orlando Pride and then beat Florida State 4-0 a week later. On March 2, the team lost 2-1 to the Chicago Red Stars in a closed-door friendly. At training camp, midfielder Taryn Torres suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

Amoros shared his thoughts when asked about preseason nearing its end: “Here we have started getting to know each other very well. It was very important to have this time because I always say we are people before we are professionals. Spending this time together has made the group stronger by sharing a common purpose in making something special here at Gotham. On the soccer side, we have started putting together the base of who we want to be with our soccer style. And now, going back home is the start of more competition, and we are so ready to get to the first game of the season in the best shape possible. This is the moment to step it up and get to the next stage.”

Gotham FC Roster:
Goalkeepers (4):
Michelle Betos, Hensley Hancuff, Abby Smith (Portland Thorns), Mandy Haught.
Defenders (10): Bruninha, Imani Dorsey, Kristen Edmonds (KC Current), Sabrina Flores, Mandy Freeman, Ellie Jean, Ali Krieger, Nealy Martin (Racing Louisville), Kelley O'Hara (Washington Spirit), Taylor Smith.
Midfielders (8): Nahomi Kawasumi, Allie Long, Kristie Mewis, Victoria Pickett, Yazmeen Ryan (Portland Thorns), Delanie Sheehan, Taryn Torres, McCall Zerboni,
Forwards (4): Svava Ros Gudmundsdottir (SK Brann, Norway), Midge Purce, Ifeoma Onumonu, Lynn Williams (KC Current)

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