SAN DIEGO — From last to first, NJ/NY Gotham FC are the 2023 NWSL champions.
Gotham finished 12th in 2022 by a wide margin. They ended with 13 points, six behind the next closest team. But in the offseason, they hired a new head coach, Juan Carlos Amorós. They also welcomed forward Lynn Williams, who missed the 2022 season due to a hamstring injury after being traded from the Kansas City Current, among other moves.
Those decisions paid off as Gotham made the playoffs as a No. 6 seed, Amorós won NWSL Coach of the Year, and Williams made the NWSL Best XI. In the NWSL Championship, such moves impressed even more in a 2-1 victory over OL Reign.
Williams, a three-time NWSL Championship winner, is known for showing up in significant moments. 2016 with the Western New York Flash, she scored an equalizer during stoppage time to send the match to penalty kicks. There, the Flash would beat the Washington Spirit, who, coincidentally, Krieger played for at the time. On the biggest stage again in 2023, Williams proved to be a driving force for Gotham.
20 minutes into the match, Williams attempted a volley from a dangerous position inside the box. However, she mishit it high over the goal. But, 24 minutes into the match, forward Midge Purce evaded multiple defenders as she ran towards the goal line. Purce slipped it to Williams, who scored.
Williams is the second player in NWSL history to have goal contributions in three separate NWSL Championship, according to OptaJack. She is also the first player to win four NWSL Championships.
Shortly after Williams’ goal, in first-half stoppage time, a corner kick from Purce found forward Esther González around the center of the box. González rose and buried it into the back of the net.
Purce is the second player in NWSL history to have two assists in one NWSL Championship; she displayed elusive moves throughout the match, weaving through the Reign’s back line. Purce won the NWSL Championship Most Valuable Player (MVP).
González joined Gotham late in the NWSL season after playing for Real Madrid and winning the 2023 World Cup with Spain. She played an integral role down the stretch for Gotham and scored the match-winner for Gotham in the championship despite Reign forward Rose Lavelle’s efforts.
The Reign equalized 29 minutes into the match, after Gotham’s first goal. Forward Bethany Balcer played a through ball to a sprinting Lavelle. Then, Lavelle found herself one-on-one with Haught, and she scored.
Lavelle, like Williams, was a constant threat throughout the match. She used her quick pace to run into open spaces. She displayed impressive skill, on the ball whether she wanted to create for her teammates or herself.
44 minutes into the match, Lavelle strung together a series of moves and flicked a pass through to Huitema, and Huitema scored. However, the goal was ruled offside in the build-up.
Lavelle continued creating chances for the Reign, but none found find the back of the net. 60 minutes into the match, Lavelle spun away from two defenders and played a through ball to forward Veronica Latsko, setting up a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. However, Gotham goalkeeper Mandy Haught stopped Latsko’s attempt, holding their lead.
“She’s [Lavelle’s] someone that we know we need,” said Reign head coach Laura Harvey. “We know it makes a huge difference to our team when we can get her in areas where she’s dangerous. Thought she took her goal so well tonight, and she was a threat every time she got on the ball.”
Drama ensued in the game’s dying minutes. The referees showed Haught a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (DOGSO) after a VAR review, leading midfielder Nealy Martin to replace Haught as Lavelle started down the back of the net. Luckily for Martin, Lavelle hit the wall with her shot, and Gotham won the championship.
A new head coach, a few signings, and rookies made a world of difference for Gotham. They completed a last-to-first effort and have many players and coaches to credit for that success. Gotham also honored their captain and defender, Ali Krieger, who retired after the match.
The NWSL Championship featured a record crowd of 25,011, many looking to see the final matches of former United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) stars, OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe, and Krieger. Instead, the crowd saw a match primarily featuring one of the two greats.
After three minutes. Rapinoe went down with a non-contact injury. She left the match, and the Reign substituted in Balcer. As Rapinoe left the pitch, Krieger went over to her and hugged her as the fans gave her a standing ovation, honoring her illustrious career.
Rapinoe made her mark on the match before she left. In the first minute, she ran down a long ball and crossed it towards the center of the box. However, Haught stopped it from reaching the desired target, forward Jordyn Huitema.
Rapinoe returned to the Reign bench on crutches with ice around her lower leg for the second half. She had a boot on and said after the match, she believes she tore her Achilles. Rapinoe will get an MRI but is expecting an Achilles tear.
“I can’t even feel where the Achilles is,” Rapinoe said. “I will get an MRI and stuff, but yeah, the worst possible outcome.”
Krieger was steady in defense, as she has been many times throughout her career and in 2023 when she made the NWSL Best XI. Krieger completed 45 of 54 passes, took 65 touches, and made four passes into the final third against the Reign, according to FotMob. She also had nine recoveries, seven defensive actions, and four clearances.
Winning the NWSL Championship has always been a dream of Krieger’s. And doing so in front of a crowd of more than 25,000 fans made it even more special to her.
“As a young kid, I have dreamt this for so long to play club soccer in a championship. Winning in front of 25,000 people, and it’s only going to get better and better. And so this is just the start,” Krieger said.
Fittingly, Krieger lifted the trophy for Gotham as the team’s captain and all-time great. She also embraced the injured Rapinoe after the match. Krieger heads into retirement after adding the NWSL Championship to her trophy list. Rapinoe finishes a wining-filled career, missing one achievement.
“From the first day, our plan was to… have our own style,” said Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós. “After the first day, Ali Krieger has put that mentality on every one of her teammates,”
After enduring challenging training sessions, Krieger and Gotham did it, leaving their all on the field.
“We promised each other to put everything into the season, everything individually that we have in order to be successful as a group,” Krieger said. “And since February first, just go into training and seeing the talent and the commitment and the willingness and the drive of these players. I knew we would be in this position.”