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  • Writer's pictureKinsey Manchester

Gotham FC's Championship Campaign

NJ/NY Gotham FC was the first team to punch their ticket to the 2023 NWSL Championship Game, which will be held on Saturday, November 11th. They defeated the defending champion Portland Thorns 1-0 in overtime to advance to their very first title game. Here's a look back at their road to the championship and what they need to do in order to secure a victory against OL Reign.

Semifinal Victory

On Sunday, November 5th, Gotham FC traveled to Providence Park to take on the Portland Thorns in a long and rainy game. The first and only goal of the match was scored in the 107th minute by Gotham FC forward Katie Stengel.

Despite Portland's home-field advantage, they could not truly get into the rhythm of the attack. The first half saw Gotham control 61% of the possession, with Portland controlling only 39%. One of the best opportunities came in the 30th minute when Gotham's Midge Purce found Lynn Williams wide open for a header, but Williams redirected it just high of the net.

The second half saw both teams intensify their attack, with Thorns midfielder Crystal Dunn playing a beautiful ball through to 2023 Golden Boot Winner Sophia Smith. Gotham goalkeeper Mandy Haught came out to make a diving save to keep Smith from slotting one in the net. With regulation time ending in a scoreless draw, the match went on to two fifteen-minute halves of overtime.

During the 107th minute of gameplay, Gotham's Kristie Mewis found Katie Stengel near the top of the box. In an individual moment of brilliance, Stengel got off a shot that curved to the upper corner of the goal just past Thorns keeper Shelby Hogan. Mewis, in her first NWSL appearance since June 25th, notched her 26th career postseason assist, tied for ninth in the league.

"I'm still shocked. If anyone saw my face afterwards. It was surreal. It was very exciting. I think I'm still dreaming," said Stengel post-game.

Gotham's staunch defensive play saw veteran Ali Krieger and Brazilian defender Bruninha help close out the final minutes of gameplay. Bruninha, Krieger, and Haught have all been on the field during Gotham's 210-minute postseason clean sheet run.

Krieger, who will retire at the end of this season, will play her final match on November 11th to fight for a Championship title.

Ali Krieger captaining Gotham in their semi-final match against the Portland Thorns on November 5, 2023 | Photo by Kallie Hansel-Tennes for WSX

Regular Season Turn Around

Gotham's results this year are even more impressive when taking into consideration their last-place finish in 2022. After recording 17 losses in the 2022 regular season, they used their offseason to make key acquisitions in USWNT players Lynn Williams and Kelley O'Hara, as well as World Cup Winner Esther González, 2022 NWSL Champion Yazmeen Ryan, and 2023 Rookie of the Year candidate Jenna Nighswonger. They also hired Juan Carlos Amorós as Head Coach to usher in a new era.

[From Left to Right] Kristie Mewis, Kelley O'Hara and Lynn Williams celebrating their semi-final win with a heel click on November 5, 2023 | Photo by Kallie Hansel-Tennes for WSX

The changes were immediately evident, and once they could coordinate their attack while maintaining a strong defensive front, the results started rolling in. What felt different this time was the on-field energy and cohesion as a team.

Between the return of Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly to the NWSL after five and eight years respectively, the team rallying around Ali Krieger's final season, and the strength of the bench despite injuries, it seemed like they had a new fire in them.

Juan Carlos Amorós, who recently won 2023 NWSL Coach of the Year honors, commented during a post-match interview on Sunday that his team thrives on passion and energy, and that is apparent in Gotham's electric style of play.

"I think the energy comes from the heart. I think in this case my passion is the passion of all the players and members of the team... They did it because it's the passion in something they do as kids, and something that you believe," said Amorós.

This passion was obvious to fans, with more people attending and supporting the Bats than ever before. During Gotham FC's home match on June 2, they set their new attendance record for Red Bull Arena at 15,058 fans. According to Forbes, Gotham's regular-season attendance grew 36% in the 2023 season compared to the 2022 numbers.

And the fans were rewarded with a successful season and a 2023 playoff berth. Gotham secured their spot in the postseason and finished with an 8-7-7 record, earning 18 more points- greater than two times more- than they did last season.

Championship Game Preview

Interestingly, Sunday's semifinal win marked the first time that Gotham FC has used two lineups in a row all year. In doing so, Lynn Williams was able to tie Christine Sinclair's record for second most all-time NWSL postseason starts. Whether Gotham will stick with the same lineup to take on OL Reign on Saturday remains to be seen.

Lynn Williams dribbling the ball in a match against the Portland Thorns at Providence Park on October 7, 2023 | Photo by Kallie Hansel-Tennes for WSX

In their two previous meetings with OL Reign this season, the visiting team has taken home the victory. Their last face-off came in May when Gotham beat the Reign 4-1. The Reign are coming off of a strong victory against the first place and Shield Winner San Diego Wave, where they held on to a 1-0 lead for 43 minutes against an attack-minded Wave team.

With Gotham's explosive and fluid style of play, they will need to capitalize early on against OL Reign if they want to come away victorious. OL Reign, on the other hand, can easily spring a counterattack and hold their shape so solidly that they will prove a tough opponent to break down.

A new champion will be crowned this year, as neither of these two original NWSL teams has ever taken home the title. It will also be a final farewell to all-time greats Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger, USWNT legends who have been league stalwarts.

Debut of redesigned 2023 NWSL Championship Trophy | Photo credit to NWSL

After upsetting both the third-place North Carolina Courage and the second-place Portland Thorns in the playoffs so far, Gotham is looking poised to take on OL Reign in San Diego on November 11th. One thing is for sure- these Bats are soaring high.

The stage is set, the players are ready, and there couldn't be a more exciting finish to a historic and record-breaking season. The 2023 NWSL Championship Game will take place at 8 pm EST time in San Diego and will be aired on CBS, and you won't want to miss it.


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