SAN DIEGO, CA – On Saturday November 11, NJ/NY Gotham FC wrote their name into the history books of the National Women’s Soccer League with the club’s first ever NWSL Championship trophy in their first ever finals appearance. In front of 25,011 fans at Snapdragon Stadium, the largest crowd ever at an NWSL Championship match, Gotham FC defeated OL Reign 2-1 in arguably the most eventful Championship game the league has ever seen.
Gotham FC 2, OL Reign 1 – Here’s the recap
Just three minutes into the match, Megan Rapinoe went down with an injury and exited the field for good, a heartbreaking and unexpected ending to her storied career. Both teams were visibly shaken from the event, but it was Gotham FC who were able to find their footing first and capitalized when forward Midge Purce beat three defenders down the right hand side and delivered a perfect cross to Lynn Williams who finished it to put Gotham up 1-0 in the 24th minute.
OL Reign were strong in their response to conceding and immediately applied pressure to Gotham’s defense. Rose Lavelle equalized with a goal just five minutes later. Gotham FC weren’t done, though, and in injury time of the first half, Midge Purce tallied her second assist of the night with a corner kick that Esther González finished to put Gotham FC up 2-1.
Despite OL Reign’s many chances in the second half, including multiple in the dying minutes of the game after Gotham FC’s Goalkeeper Mandy Haught received a red card and was sent off the field for a hand ball outside of the box as the last defender, Gotham were able to keep the ball out of their own net. With a scoreless second half, Gotham FC the victory 2-1 and Purce took home the NWSL Championship MVP award for her strong performance and two assists on the evening.
A Storybook ending for Gotham FC
Sometimes in sports, the stars just seem to align, and the story plays out like a Hollywood script. It’s an intangible feeling, difficult to describe, but one that Gotham fans and players alike have pointed out over the course of the 2023 season. There was an overwhelming feeling from the start that the team was on the precipice of something special.
Throughout the year, Gotham FC have embodied this feeling, and as they climbed their way through the playoffs with victories over North Carolina and Portland before reaching the NWSL Championship, that feeling only grew stronger.
Something special happened in New Jersey/New York this year. No matter how that Hollywood script ended, Gotham reestablished themselves as force to be reckoned with in the NWSL, shedding a last place finish from 2022, denouncing the worst-to-first title, and making sure that the 2023 Gotham FC was remembered in one important way: Gotham FC are a team in the truest sense of the word.
Safety, Inclusion, and Respect
After joining Gotham for the 2023 season, Head Coach Juan Carlos Amorós has made one thing clear: Gotham FC would have a clear system and identity that would be known throughout not just the league, but the world.
“No player was going to play on this team because of who they are, every player was going to have to earn it,” Amorós explained. “As a former player it was important that everyone feels like they have a chance at playing and that everyone feels supported.”
It was a clear vision from the start from the head coach, one where there was no consistent starting eleven and everyone had to earn their spot every single day.
Lynn Williams reflected on the culture and identity, explaining that there was really no other option but to “buy into something” if they wanted a different result from a last place finish in 2022. “She continued to explain that “Everyone realized that this was what was best for the team… and we trusted that,” she said.
While any team can have its players buy in to a tactical system, this idea of identity runs so much deeper for Gotham. As Williams explained, part of what Amorós and his staff were able to do at the team was foster an environment of respect, safety, and inclusion.
“I have to be my best self to see the field and [Ali] Krieger has to be her best self to see the field, and if I’m going up against the best Krieger, it’s going to create the best Lynn, and I think that you can see that all around,” she said. “When you are seeing people doing that every single day you just have so much respect for your fellow teammates and I think that’s how you create an environment where it’s like, okay if I’m in the eleven or not, I just respect these women so fully.”
Williams continued, sharing an example of what she says “might seem small” but made a big difference in creating a safe and inclusive environment.
“We have a Spanish coaching staff, we have two players from Spain, we have someone from Brazil. We used to go into meetings and there would be closed captions on the video presentations,” she explained. “I think that when you go into a place – and it might seem small – that is so accommodating for every single person and is creating an environment of learning, that it allows everyone to be a little easier, a little more comfortable, and to buy into that identity… This year just felt like you could come in and you just feel at home.”
The send off Ali Krieger deserves
Motivation and leadership can come in all forms, and at the core of Gotham this season was their captain, Ali Krieger. Ahead of the 2023 season, Krieger announced that it would be her last, and that she would be hanging up her cleats for good.
As if straight from a storybook, Krieger’s illustrious and storied career didn’t end in the regular season, nor did it end in a playoff match. Instead, she took it all the way to the final whistle of the NWSL Championship. Krieger went out on top, adding that one final trophy to her already decorated collection.
“I can’t really put into words what type of group we have because there are some incredible human beings here and I think that’s why we are in the position that we are in because we support each other day in and day out,” Krieger reflected after the match. “And that just translates onto the field. When you have those relationships outside of the field, you can be more motivated to work hard for each other.”
It is clear that Krieger’s influence as a captain extends beyond the field. She is a captain that leads by example and holds her teammates to a high standard.
“I honestly don’t think I’ve had a better captain, ever,” Purce stated after the game about Krieger. This sentiment was echoed by Maitane López who started Saturday’s game at center back alongside Krieger. “I love this woman,” López said, “She is the best person, the best captain. It is amazing to have her in my life.”
Krieger, despite playing in three World Cups, did not receive a proper send-off from the US Women’s National Team. Now, Krieger ends her career with an NWSL Championship trophy in hand and a stadium full of fans chanting her name, hoping to give her the send-off they feel she truly deserves.
As for how Krieger feels about the end of her career? She says that she can’t quite put into words yet how she feels.
“Most importantly, I’m proud of this group,” Krieger added. “I’m proud of myself for getting through what I’ve gotten through this year, and really putting everything into my job and my work and this team and these players. But I’ve gotten back in return, ten fold. They have supported me through. They have wanted to win for me, they have wanted to support me day in and day out through everything, even in my personal life. That is something that I am going to cherish and nurture and be grateful for forever.”
All Eyes on 2024
While the NWSL season has now come to a close, the journey for Gotham FC is just beginning. The NWSL Expansion Draft will take place on December 15, 2023, and a College Draft will follow in January. Gotham FC General Manager Yael Averbuch will be hard at work alongside Juan Carlos Amorós to continue to build on this year’s success in the hopes for a repeat in the 2024 season.