Gotham FC turned around an early deficit to secure a 2-1 win against Angel City FC away from home in the opening game of the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season. Goals from U.S. Women’s National Team duo Midge Purce and Lynn Williams lifted Gotham to their first league win since July.
“I was extremely proud of the team performance despite obviously, the first 10 minutes of the game when whatever the things that could go wrong went wrong,” head coach Juan Carlos Amorós said after his first game in charge of Gotham. “The team grew into the game. We were better for the rest of the [first] half. We had some chances and then at halftime we regroup, adopted a few things. I think the second showed character, competition, and I think we deserve to win that game.”
The Goths were dealt a pair of blows early on when freshly appointed captain Ali Krieger was forced off in the 10th minute with a calf injury. The hosts struck a minute later through a fantastic effort from 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson. The first overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft, Thompson wasted no time opening her professional account with a great effort from outside the eighteen-yard box.
The NWSL introduced Video Assistant Referee this year, and a reviewhelped turn fortunes around for Gotham shortly later. Angel City forward Jun Endo’s 40-yard chip over Alyssa Smith was disallowed after a questionable foul in the lead-up was ruled to be an obvious error.
Gotham began settling into the game from there, later benefitting from VAR again when Svava Rós Guðmundsdóttir drew a penalty. The second-half substitute spearheaded a turnover deep in Angel City’s half, forcing DiDi Haračić to come off her line and make contact with the Icelandic forward. Midge Purce slotted the resulting spot pick into the top right corner.
With the energy flipped at BMO Stadium, Gotham pushed and quickly got its second. An aggressive Yazmeen Ryan forced a turnover in midfield before sending Midge Purce up the middle of the attack. The 27-year-old’s run attracted the Angel City backline, leaving space for Lynn Williams to open her Gotham account with a one-timed finish.
Gotham continued to hold possession despite the circumstances and could rely on debutant Abby Smith in goal when called upon in the second half. The lack of full-match fitness prevented Angel City from building attacking efforts in the final ten minutes, letting relatively stress-free final moments tick down for the Goths.
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Sunday’s win featured eight of Gotham’s ten offseason additions, including six in the starting lineup.
Goalscorer Lynn Williams, and substitutes Svava Rós Guðmundsdóttir and Jenna Nighswonger, were crucial to securing three points on the west coast. The latter was called upon to make her professional debut with an impromptu replacement of Ali Krieger. Nighswonger was forced into playing out of position but looked natural on the left side of Gotham’s defense.
“She was outstanding from that position, that was the first time I think she ever played but she was solid defensively and she was pushing forwards,” Amorós said.” She was a constant threat and I think when she came on the team actually played better composed.”
“It’s really great to have the coaching staff be confident in me especially when I am a bit worried about obviously playing a new position and then playing in a new league,” Nighswonger said. “To have my team and the coaching staff back me was enough to get me through the game.”
Kristen Edmonds held Gotham’s backline together in her club debut, often cleaning up breakouts as the last line of defense. Yazmeen Ryan’s versatility and aggression were vital to Gotham’s winning goal, while Kelly O’Hara’s debut lasted until halftime when she was replaced by Guðmundsdóttir.
Smith between the sticks
We received the first glimpse into who might fill the starting role in goal for the Goths when Amorós named Abby Smith to his lineup Sunday night. The free agent acquisition recovered strongly from a start that shocked the entire team.
It’s hard to hold much against her as the goal didn’t count, but there is a reason to be worried about how far Smith was off her line. OL Reign might be having a few extra long shots in training this week. After Smith was beaten by Thompson and unofficially beaten by Endo, Amorós was impressed with how she recovered.
“From there, she grew. I think she did really good, it wasn’t an easy game,” Amorós said postgame. “I told her at the moment she plays today but Michelle [Betos] and also Mandy [Haught] has been outstanding in training and in games. So she took that responsibility today and she grabbed it with two hands.”
The 29-year-old made five saves on the night, most notably denying Claire Emslie’s free-kick with a diving effort in the 22nd minute. With the exception of spilling a close-range effort shortly before halftime, Smith was reliable for pushing saves into safe areas, punching away crosses at the appropriate time, and coming out of the box to stop the occasional breakaway.
“Very happy for her because she comes from Portland where she wasn’t playing, today she played as you saw why she could be a starting player for us,” Amorós said.
Gotham FC welcomes OL Reign for its home opener at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, April 1 at 7:30 pm ET.