It just isn’t clicking for Gotham FC.
A team that was seemingly made stronger by a number of high-profile offseason trades have yet to find their groove and once again was held scoreless by a club that they could have battled, if not beaten. Yesterday, a Gotham team depleted by injuries and international call-ups were outplayed by a strong Chicago Red Stars squad that scored two first-half goals at Red Bull Arena to effectively put away the game, then added a third before the final whistle.
Gotham’s performance was fairly typical of this year: The Goths have scored only five goals in eight games, giving them the fewest goals-per-game in the NWSL. More troubling, Gotham have been held scoreless in five of those matches.
Oddly enough, this season Gotham either has a clean sheet or is shut out: They won their three games by a combined scoreline of 5-0, and lost their five games by a combined 0-12. The results aren't great, but at least Gotham is consistent.
Gotham FC: 14 shots, 4 on goal, 44.9% possession, 385 passes, 73% accuracy, 6 fouls
Chicago Red Stars: 10 shots, 4 on goal, 55.1% possession, 482 passes, 81.5% accuracy, 8 fouls
Unlike Chicago, which was composed in possession from the start, Gotham felt unsure when they had the ball: Passes were sluggish, players didn’t make the runs, and throughout the first half the players seemed to lose confidence in each other. Defenders didn't try to play the ball out of the back, or even knock it into the attacking third. Instead, they cleared the ball to the sidelines, giving Chicago possession after possession in advantageous positions.
It was just a matter of time before Chicago pounced. The first goal arrived in the 16th minute, when Sarah Luebbert knocked in a ball after a run of play in which Gotham hardly touched the ball. The second came nine minutes later courtesy of Vanessa DiBernardo, as Chicago played keep-away and calmly moved the ball up and down the wings.
Gotham woke up in the second half and created some dangerous chances, but by then they were chasing the game: They coulda, shoulda scored a consolation goal. Gotham can be upset with the scoreline, but they can’t feel hard done by the result.
It’s called an “international break” for a reason
Gotham was without four of their best players: Midfielder Kirstie Mewis and forward Midge Purce were called up to the USWNT, while defender Estelle Johnson was called up to play for Cameroon, and defender Ifeoma Onumonu was called up to play for Nigeria. Chicago was also without foul players called up for international duty, including scoring ace Mallory Pugh, who was with the USWNT. Guess you could call it even.
Still, it’s odd that the NWSL would play games during an international break. Nine of the league’s twelve teams have players called up to the USWNT, and every club have players called up to other national teams: Many of the NWSL’s best players won’t take the field this weekend.
It brings to mind the first 20 years of MLS, when the league completely ignored international breaks. While the cabal that runs MLS from a Fifth Avenue skyscraper in Manhattan will never give their reasoning for any decision they make, you got the sense that they realized that some of their players were good enough to be capped for their national teams, and the league was effectively penalizing the clubs savvy enough to make good signings. Now MLS respects international breaks just like other big-boy men’s leagues, such as Liga MX and the Primera División in Argentina.
The NWSL needs no such learning curve. The premier women’s league in the United States is still the best in the world, and packed with so much talent that these International breaks will deplete every time. Perhaps there are logistical or financial considerations to scheduling games during these breaks, but the soccer on the field suffers.
Thank you, Gina Lewandowski
This was the final professional match for the legendary Gina Lewandowski. The 37-year-old defender and midfielder joined Gotham in 2019 (then known as Sky Blue FC) after seven years at Bayern Munich, where she won the Bundesliga twice.
Lewandowski announced her retirement only in May, after the start of the 2022 NWSL season, and explained that she intends to become a coach. Earlier this year, she earned her National B Coaching License through a program sponsored by US Soccer, the NWSL, and the NWSL Player’s Association that sets out to increase the number of licensed female coaches. She already has a UEFA ‘B’ license she earned when she played in Germany.
Pumped to finally have this! Proud & grateful to work & grow alongside all these amazing women. Thank you @ussoccer @nwsl & @nwsl_players for this amazing opportunity. Also to @Karlathwavefc & @HeatherDyche for their guidance & support pic.twitter.com/CCuLQ8U7vs— Gina Lewandowski (@gll088) February 16, 2022
As Lewandowski told Jenna Tonelli at All for XI, she already had an eye on taking up a position on the touchline. “When I see a drill, I’m more interested in learning the purpose behind it, and maybe keeping it to use for myself when I coach!” Lewandowski told Tonelli. “But what I’ve learned through coaching education I’ve tried to translate onto the field as a player and use what I can from that different perspective.”
You can expect to see her again on a soccer pitch sometime soon.
Chicago Red Stars, Sarah Luebbert 16’
Chicago Red Stars, Vanessa DiBernardo 25’
Chicago Red Stars, Ella Stevens 84’
Gotham, Caprice Dydasco, yellow card 39’
Gotham, McCall Zerboni, yellow card 64’