Gotham FC did just enough to advance to the 2023 NWSL Playoffs.
The Goths started the game on this Decision Day looking like the most impressive team in the league, scoring two quality goals within the first 15′ minutes. But that dominating performance faded as the Kansas City Current scored a gorgeous goal in the 26′, and benefited from an own goal 10 minutes later, to even the score at 2-2.
That was the final score at the whistle, which left the Gotham players in the awkward position of milling around on the Red Bull Arena field as the results from other Decision Day games filtered in from the rest of the league. The Goths started the day in fourth place, and a win would have lifted them to third place. But now they were adrift in sixth place, and could fall farther down the table if a Washington Spirit reduced to 10 players after a red card saw off Trinity Rodman managed to pull off a stoppage-time win.
The table held: Washington lost their game, and the Goths finished the season in sixth place: Gotham are going to the NWSL Playoffs for just the second time since the club joined the league in 2015.
Not bad for a team that finished dead last in 2022.
Squeaky bum time
It shouldn’t have been that tense. If Gotham had won they would have finished the season in fourth place with 33 points, comfortably ahead of both OL Reign and Angel City FC.
That Angel City win, by the way, upended the table by defeating the league-leading Portland Thorns 5-1. That result delivered the NWSL Shield to San Diego Wave FC in just their second year of existence, and allowed Angel City to climb from eighth place up to fifth and into the playoffs.
Had Gotham put up a performance like that one, they would next host the Reign at Red Bull Arena next Sunday in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, Gotham will face the North Carolina Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday.
Gotham drew the Courage 3-3 when they faced off in North Carolina on September 2. Gotham winger Midge Purce scored an 82′ equalizer to earn the point in a game that North Carolina led for 63 minutes, but in which the Goths were the better team.
The sixth-place finish means that Gotham will not play another game at Red Bull Arena this season no matter how far they advance in the playoffs. As the lowest seed in the tournament, all of their matches will be on the road
Which Gotham will show up in the playoffs?
Two Gothams were on display today. There was the creative Gotham that looked dangerous in attack, taking 14 shots total and putting five on target. This was a Gotham that was confident in front of goal, and that could have added another two goals to secure the win.
But there was also a Gotham that had trouble handling the Kansas City attack, and could get caught out on defense when the Current moved the ball quickly in transition.
Now the question is: Which Gotham will show up when they play the Courage? The Goths drew the Courage twice in league play, and beat them 2-0 in a NWSL Challenge Cup matchup at Red Bull Arena.
The two teams have almost identical records: Had Gotham won today they would have been even on points, although North Carolina has the advantage in goal differential.
The Courage are undefeated at home in their last five games in all competitions. But three of those were draws – one with Gotham – and the team are no longer putting up the commanding 5-0 and 6-0 wins they posted earlier in the season.
Gotham must see the matchup with North Carolina as a winnable game. But that’s only if the creative and attack-minded Gotham shows up, while the Gotham that can’t handle quick transitions shores up a leaky defense.
Ali Kreiger’s farewell
It was an emotional evening not only because Gotham made the playoffs, but because it was the final league game for legendary defender Ali Kreiger.
Kreiger ended the regular season in style, making a goal-line clearance after a Gotham blunder almost gave away the game:
You can watch the 39-year-old roll back the years when she sprints back to back up goalkeeper Mandy Haught, who was out of position after a misplaced pass. She looked less like a footballer on the eve of retirement than a superhero who once again saves the day.
At least we get one more game with krueger anchoring the Gotham defense.