Being part of the crowd at MSU Soccer Park last Tuesday supporting NJ/NYGotham FC as we won at home 4-3 vs the North Courage Courage (NCC), was an incredible feeling. The homey college setting, the fight shown by the team against an explosive offence of Debinha, Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonalds, and the stoppage time winner by (last year’s first draft pick, Canadian) Évelyne Viens, reminded me of a similarly unbelievable home night I was present at Yurcak Field almost 2 years ago (14 August 2019) to witness the then rookie Paige Monaghan, score an injury time goal to win it 2-1 against a strong Chicago Red Stars (CRS) team having players like Sam Kerr, Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher, for the then Sky Blue FC. A lot has changed for the team since then, but fortunately some of the good things are still the same.
Then we had just begun to slowly turn the tide after their travails from previous years. We went on to play twice at the Red Bull Arena in 2019. And I was excited to watch all our 2020 home matches there, but the pandemic had other plans. But quietly optimistic that even with reduced capacity, there’ll be decent crowds at the RBA for this year’s regular season.
New players brought in like Midge Purce, Ifeoma Onumonu, McCall Zerboni and Jennifer Cudjoe have increased competitiveness and had an extremely positive impact on team mentality and culture. From last year, new coach, Freya Coombe, has tried a possession based style of play that is more vertical compared to other similar teams in the NWSL. In the few matches so far, there have been signs that when the system clicks, Gotham becomes an exciting attacking team. Hopefully, getting a full set of matches this year will help ingrain her tactical ideas more completely.
I was okay with changing the team’s name from Sky Blue FC as it was much required. NJ/NY Gotham FC is not something I liked, but also I don’t hate it. I’m sure I’ll warm up to it eventually. But I absolutely loved the new crest and jersey designs.
Club GM, Alyse Lahue, has been the same, but gotten even better - being empathetic towards players’ needs, being very transparent (as much as possible) with the fans. It was nice to see her engaging with fans at the match.
Coming to the match against such difficult opponents, the biggest losses were our world-class goalkeeper, Kailen Sheriden (injury) who often keeps us in games single-handedly with amazing saves, and our captain and ever reliable midfield orchestrator, Sarah Killion Woldmoe (now with CRS). But DiDi Haracic has been a decent replacement in goal for these 2 matches. I was delighted to see defender Mandy Freeman, who was slowly returning to match fitness last year, after a long time out with injury, get the captain's armband. We played a midfield diamond [4(Daydasco, Lewandowski, Freeman, Dorsey)-1(Cudjoe)-2(Sodam Lee, Kawasumi)-1(Lloyd)-2(Monaghan, Purce)] to counter NCC’s midfield box.
Midge Purce was outstanding in every possible way a forward can be. Getting into spaces to receive balls, making direct runs at defenders, taking them on, dribbling past them easily, and netting Gotham’s first 2 goals. She showed her versatility when later in the 2nd half she was moved to right back to accommodate attackers, Viens and Onumonu, who got subbed in. She has to be considered by Vlatko Adonovski for the Olympics; she’s better than some of the other forwards being considered.
Paige Monaghan has grown immensely over the last 2 years and become a unique wide forward. She gets back to help with the defence, or to even start attacks, interchanges positions fluidly with other attackers like Purce and Onumonu, and was largely responsible for Gotham’s second goal.
It was good to see Carli Lloyd boss the free roaming number 10 role in attacking midfield the same way in that match nearly 2 years ago. She combined nicely with Dorsey for Gotham’s 3rd before halftime.
We caused the NCC so much problems, that Paul Riley had to sub off both their centre-backs at half time. Another indicator of how well Coombe set-up the team, and how diligently the players executed the game-plan were the comments made by Riley post-match. And it was the same after last year’s Challenge Cup match with them. He said both times that after half time, he wanted NCC to keep Gotham in front of them, and not press us high up as it was not entirely effective.
Along with the staff and players, the other stars of the show were undoubtedly the fans. Gotham supporters group, Cloud 9, singing and chanting all the time. Crowd got annoyed with the referee for bad calls like no foul calls, or sometimes no advantage played, and booed them. We were cheering our players not just for goals, but also for saves, blocks, tackles, and good passes. There were gasps for excellent through-balls, and mesmerizing bits of individual skills by our players. Fan support at stadiums cannot be underestimated; and I think that played a part in tipping the match in Gotham’s favor. Hoping for more such home match days in the future.
by Alok Dadhekar