But a Gotham defense that has yet to allow a single goal this postseason is proving to be the engine that’s driving the team’s improbable run to the NWSL Championship Finals with two upset wins on the road.
Mandy Haught is our POTM
With all due respect to Gotham defender Jenna Nighswonger, who was named Player of the Match by FotMob, goalkeeper Mandy Haught had the game of her life tonight. The shot-stopper is credited with just three saves, but she was dynamic in the box, scooping up loose balls and aggressively defending her goal against the best attack in the NWSL.
You have to remember that Haught wasn’t supposed to be here. The 25-year-old began the season on the bench, and was called into action only after regular starter Abby Smith suffered an injury in stoppage time during the 2-1 loss to the San Diego Wave on August 19. She started in the final six matches of the season, when the team logged a record of one win, three draws, and two losses.
It wasn’t a particularly impressive run of games for Haught, but she is showing herself to be a player who steps up in big games. First, there was the 0-2 shutout win two weeks ago against a North Carolina Courage who were missing their best scorer, but who still had plenty of firepower on their lineup.
Tonight she logged a second consecutive clean sheet, this time against a stacked Thorns attack that scored the most goals in the NWSL this year. Golden Boot winner Sophia Smith (11 goals, 5 assists), Morgan Weaver (7 goals, 4 assists), and Crystal Dunn (5 goals, 2 assists) are the most potent attack in the league, and they made run after run on the plastic grass at Providence Park.
But tonight the Thorns managed only three shots on target, and for 120 minutes they were held scoreless by Haught and a Gotham backline that are now arguably the best defense in the 2023 NWSL Championship playoffs.
Haught’s best play came late in regulation time, when she sprinted off her line to dive on a ball at the feet of Smith. It doesn’t count as a save according to how statistics are tallied, but her timing and confidence allowed her to smother a goal-scoring opportunity by one of the most potent players in the history of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team.
San Diego Wave or OL Reign?
Gotham will next play either the San Diego Wave or the OL Regin in the NWSL Championship Final on Saturday, November 11 at 8 pm ET. That means facing yet another USWNT legend in either San Diego’s Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe. The way Haught and the rest of the defense look right now, they’re more than up to the task.
But goals win games, and not one member of Gotham’s attacking trio of Lynn Williams, Midge Purce, and Esther Gonzalez have found the back of the net in 210 minutes of playoff soccer.
That’s something for head coach Juan Carlos Amóros to sort out this week. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the beauty of a goal Stengel scored just 7 minutes after coming on in the 100th minute of the game: