By J.J. Post
I started writing Gotham’s preview for ASA in 2021, so this will be my third time around manning this piece for the site. The theme of each edition has been, for better or for worse, similar: optimism.
2021 focused on the club’s rebrand and new image on the back of a promising Challenge Cup performance during a unique COVID-affected season. 2022 discussed how Gotham could build off their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade.
2023’s preview will be optimistic because… well, things can’t really get much worse. 2022 was a nightmare season for Gotham on the pitch. 2022’s xGA overperformance crashed down to earth without all-league keeper Kailen Sheridan in net for the first time in years. Gotham conceded the most xG in the league (50.05) and conceded 52 actual goals, good for the second worst mark in the league.
The offense lagged as well, as Gotham generated the second lowest total xG and scored the fewest goals outright. The team didn’t score a single goal in the month of September (before exploding for three in the season’s final game). A misfiring forward line and struggling midfield created a less than potent attacking combination. They finished last in ASA’s total team G+ differential table.
As you might imagine, the results were not pretty. Gotham’s final win of the 2022 campaign came on July 8th. Their record over the final 17 games of the season was 1-1-15.
As you might also imagine, Gotham got busy over the offseason. Here’s a position by position breakdown of the roster and who the team will be expecting to step up in 2023.
A central question entering last season for Gotham was how exactly the team would replace the excellence of Kailen Sheridan. With Sheridan in San Diego, Gotham had a hole the size of 5.31 expected goals at ‘keeper. The team attempted to fill that hole with a platoon system – with two league-tested veterans Ashlyn Harris and Michelle Betos sharing minutes in net.
As you might assume from the first five grafs of this article, that plan… worked less than perfectly. Neither goalkeeper ever fully won the starting position, and neither came close to the xG defying heroics that came to define Sheridan’s tenure. Now, holding most goalkeepers to Sheridan’s standard is near impossible, especially in front of the leaky defense Harris and Betos were charged with commanding. But it’s hard to imagine Gotham wasn’t looking for better than the G-xG values of 3.17 from Betos and 4.83 from Harris.
As such, goalkeeper became the first position on the roster where Gotham made significant changes. Abby Smith, most recently a backup with the Portland Thorns, was brought in on a three year deal to give Gotham a fresh face between the sticks. Smith’s data from the previous two seasons is limited given her deputy role, but the limited data that does exist is positive – or perhaps negative? Smith posted a -1.35 G-xG in 2022, good for the 5th best mark in the league.
Veteran USWNTer Kelley O’Hara was signed to shore up a backline that lost former league defender of the year Caprice Dydasco to a late season trade. Just one returning Gotham defender recorded a positive G+ score in 2022. O’Hara fits that description. Gotham also dipped into the pool of New Jersey-raised NWSL talent and brought home Kristen Edmonds, an ex-Rutgers star who carved out key roles in Western New York, Orlando, and Kansas City over her last nine years in the league. Edmonds graded positively on ASA’s G+ tables as well, posting her best results in the all-important “interrupting” category.
Away from the stat sheet, the pairing should bring some additional experience and consistency to a unit that lost two of its most senior members in Estelle Johnson (now with the North Carolina Courage) and Gina Lewandowski (retired).
Elsewhere in the defense, Gotham will mostly be sticking with their existing guns and hoping for a step forward and more consistency. Mandy Freeman quietly enjoyed a strong 2022, the one constant for Gotham amidst an often inconsistent backline. If Freeman can establish a strong partnership with Edmonds, there should be a major boost in the defensive numbers in Harrison. Ali Krieger offers another veteran presence in the center of the park.
Imani Dorsey has been through everything with Gotham at left back, and should be in line for another season of heavy usage this year. Elsewhere at fullback there’s Ellie Jean, who has ample international experience but never fully found form in 2022, and Sabrina Flores, who enjoyed a breakout 2020 campaign but has struggled for minutes since. Bruninha rounds out the list, bringing some promise and potential to a largely veteran core in her first full season in the league.
Player to watch: Nealy Martin. Martin, who spent two years with Racing Louisville after a standout career at Alabama, was one of Gotham’s first acquisitions of the offseason. It remains to be seen what her role will be in new coach Juan Carlos Amorós’ system – Martin was a rotational player for Louisville who only played roughly 600 total minutes – but Gotham clearly saw something they liked and moved quickly to bring her in off waivers. One of the few young faces in a largely veteran defensive group, Martin could be in line for serious minutes if any of Gotham’s older centerbacks require rest.
Gotham also made it a point to try and strengthen their midfield over the offseason. Perhaps the biggest “addition” to the center of the park for the club is Allie Long, who should slot right into the starting XI. Long took the 2022 season off due to maternity leave, and Gotham’s midfield was noticeably shakier without her metronomic and hyper-accurate passing at the base of the operation. She should immediately add a calming presence and defensive solidity to a unit that was run ragged in many of the team’s worst results last year.
Elsewhere in the ball-winning department, locker room leader McCall Zerboni is back for another season. One of the league’s most respected culture-setters off the pitch, the three time NWSL champ’s ball-winning efforts have yet to wane with age.
What Long and Zerboni can’t solve, however, is Gotham’s creativity problem. Last season, per FBRef, NJ/NY ranked dead last in total progressive passes. It wasn’t especially close either – Gotham was one of just two clubs to not break the 700 PrgP mark – and the other club (Orlando Pride), still easily outpaced them.
Gotham, unsurprisingly, knew they needed to get more creative. Victoria Pickett was brought in via a mid-season trade and brought with her a boost to the attacking midfield corps. General manager Yael Averbuch used her only pick in the first three rounds of the NWSL draft on Jenna Nighswonger, a national-title winning midfielder who’s at her best progressing the ball.
Kristie Mewis will also have a major role to play in Gotham’s midfield becoming more dynamic in 2023. Mewis produced just 2 goals and 3 assists in NWSL play in 2022, and her xG and xAG (per FBref) of 2.0 and 3.7 don’t show a significant underperformance of underlying numbers either. So what changed for Mewis, who had produced at least 7 xG+xAG per season since FBref began its database? At age 30, Mewis should be entering the back end of her prime, not tailing off. Amorós’ new system, which has been hinted to place an emphasis on pressing and direct passing, could be key in bringing Mewis back to her best.
Player to watch: Yazmeen Ryan. Ryan was the first of two major draft day acquisitions by Averbuch (more on the second later). Capable of playing either along the front line out wide or through the middle as an attacking midfielder, Ryan could fit into Amorós’ plans in a number of different ways. Ryan showed flashes of being a top tier chance creator for Portland and in her college days at TCU, but couldn’t break into the Thorns XI on a full-time basis. She’s in line to get a chance to take her game, and Gotham, to another level in 2023.
On the note of draft day additions, Gotham’s banner offseason acquisition was Lynn Williams. As far as attack-changing additions go, Williams is about as good as you can get. A USWNT staple at the peak of her powers, Williams notched 9+ goals each of her last four full NWSL campaigns. She’s got speed (and is willing to use in in a press), she’s got a final touch, and she could be the missing piece that unlocks the rest of Gotham’s attacking trio: Midge Purce and Ify Onumonu
Anyone who’s watched NWSL in the last three or so years knows the name Midge Purce. After a baffling miscasting at fullback early on in her Gotham career, Purce has spent the last several years being the main source of light on otherwise struggling front lines in Harrison. Purce led Gotham in G+ in 2022, and was in first place by light years.
Purce accounted for 2.5 goals added in 2022. The teams’ next five best players by G+ didn’t even account for half of that combined. The addition of Williams could finally be the complimentary piece that helps Purce’s obvious brilliance translate to better on pitch results.
Player to watch: Ify Onumonu. Ever under the radar, 2022 set up to be a breakout year for Onumonu. The perpetually underrated center forward had enjoyed a career year in 2021, and it stood to reason that her form would continue into 2022. But as Gotham struggled overall, so did Onumonu. She still did all the little things that make her a quality striker right – she holds up and connects play well, and wins aerial duels at an excellent rate – but the finishing touch eluded her. She found the back of the net just three times, and her xG lagged well below her 2021 numbers as well (down to 4.70 from 7.56 per ASA’s database). Gotham adding another quick forward who can run the channels could amplify the best aspects of Onumonu’s hold up game, and the new-look midfield should give her plenty of chances to find the back of the net herself.
Ultimately, Gotham is a team that needs to nail their acquisitions at every level of the field if they want to flip their fortunes from last place to playoff contention. Their success this season will come down to how well Juan Carlos Amorós can implement a new style, and how much of an impact the likes of Edmonds, O’Hara, Ryan, and Williams can make from game one onwards.
The summer months will likely be the most vital for Gotham, as they’re slated to lose their entire front three to the Women’s World Cup. Gotham isn’t without attacking depth – Delanie Sheehan showed promise in her rookie campaign, Taylor Smith looked the part of a shrewd waiver addition last summer, and Nahomi Kawasumi has been a useful squad member for years. Svava Rós Guðmundsdóttir was acquired from the Norwegian top flight as well to bring another fresh face to the existing attacking options. But no matter who it is, someone will need to step up and carry the load of losing three international caliber players over the summer months.
By Arianna Cascone
The North Carolina Courage have never existed without Debinha. Or Abby Erceg, for that matter. Now, they’ll have to figure out how. After a dynamic offseason that saw the Courage lose several key players and return players that accounted for only 56% of their 2022 regular-season minutes, a new-look North Carolina is set to take the field in 2023.