By James Nalton.
NJ/NY Gotham is through to the NWSL Championship game for the first time in franchise history after defeating Portland Thorns in Sunday night’s semifinal.
Katie Stengel’s extra-time goal in the 107th minute was the only goal of the game but it was enough to send Gotham through. It will face OL Reign at the Snapdragon Stadium, in San Diego, California, on November 11.
The last time the franchise reached a championship final was in its debut season in 2009. The team, then known as Sky Blue FC, defeated Los Angeles Sol in the final of the Women’s Professional Soccer competition.
14 years later, regardless of the result in the upcoming final, 2023 has seen the culmination of a remarkable turnaround in the team’s fortunes under general manager Yael Averbuch West, who joined in 2021, and head coach Juan Carlos Amorós who was hired ahead of the 2023 season.
Gotham has gone from finishing bottom of the pile in the NWSL in 2022 to reaching the championship game in 2023.
This year also saw the franchise win its first playoff game and score its first goal in playoff soccer since that 2009 triumph.
The progress on the field reflects the franchise’s rebuild off the field under the NJ/NY Gotham FC brand.
“We’re always trying to be offensive, always trying to be versatile, solid, aggressive, being engaging and fun to watch,” Amorós told CBS.
“One of the parts that is in our DNA [on which] we work incredibly hard is to make the players understand that defending is the first part of our offensive approach to the game.
“Jesus [Botello Hermosa, head of tactical analysis] and myself work really hard to make them understand their role and responsibilities because if they do those roles defensively, we’re going to create things offensively.
“I think that our first defender is the No. 9 [center-forward] our last defender is the No. 1 [goalkeeper] but it’s the same the other way. Our first offensive player is our No. 1. I think that’s something that the team understands really well and plays into.”
This progress means that Gotham defender Ali Krieger, who announced that she will retire at the end of the season, will play her final game in an NWSL Championship final.
“We all just feel this need to keep Ali Krieger in this game and to keep playing, and it’s just this amazing camaraderie in this group,” Gotham goalkeeper Mandy Haught told CBS.
“We’re going to do this for us, we’re going to do this for Kriegs. We’re not done yet. We’re going to go all the way.”
Stengel’s goal was worthy of winning any game.
Receiving the ball on the edge of the area from Kristie Mewis’s knockdown, she curled it left-footed into the far corner prompting joyous celebration from the Gotham contingent.
“I’ve gotten around to many different countries, been able to play with a lot of different styles, and this is definitely one of those nights that I’ll remember and one of the best I’ve gotten to experience in my career,” Stengel told ESPN.
Gotham will hope there is another night to remember on November 11 in San Diego.