When Gotham FC signed Taylor Smith off waivers in late June, the news flew under the radar. The 28-year-old defender had made two starts with North Carolina Courage this season, and was brought into the club for her experience and to add depth to a squad still looking to find their identity.
It was a surprise to see her in the Starting XI playing as a lone striker. Smith was subbed on as an attacking midfielder in last week’s loss to Chicago Red Stars, but yesterday’s lineup card looked like a sign of desperation by head coach Scott Parkinson: Before this game, Smith had scored just twice in seven years as a professional.
Gotham FC: 9 shots, 4 on goal, 47.6% possession, 333 passes, 69.7% accuracy, 16 fouls
Racing Louisville: 24 shots, 8 on goal, 52.4% possession, 431 passes, 77.6% accuracy, 12 fouls
It turned out to be a stroke of genius. Smith was a goal-scorer when she played at UCLA — she knocked in the double-overtime winner in the NCAA Division 1 Quarterfinals in 2017, and scored another two on the way to the Bruins winning their first College Cup. This wasn’t her first rodeo.
Still, Smith was put in an unexpected role for a player who had trouble finding minutes at North Carolina. her goal is crisp and clinical — it looks like the work of a well-drilled striker. Smith times her run perfectly to pick up a ball that midfielder Delanie Sheehan threads through four Racing defenders, controls it with a soft touch, then calmly blasts it across the goal past the outstretched arms of keeper Katie Lund.
While Smith’s goal will deservedly get the headlines, this game was won by the Gotham defense and the goalkeeping skills of Kathryn Harris. Louisville controlled possession and took 24 shots, eight on goal, but could only find the back of the net once.
Gotham’s back line played a tough, physical game that frustrated Racing’s attack. Defenders Caprice Dydasco and McCall Zerboni received their second yellow cards in as many games. It was well worth it.
Could this game be a Parkinson’s blueprint for how to win? Racing aren’t the strongest opponent – they have only two points in their last five games and won just twice this season – but it’s an away win against a team that beat them at home in May. So what if Smith’s goal was against the run of play? Three points are three points.
More intriguing: Will Smith play at striker again? She proved herself yesterday: FotMob gave her a rating of 8.3, behind only the 8.4 Player of the Match performance by Harris. Smith’s insurgent game will give Parkinson options up front once forwards Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu return from international duty.
The fact is, Gotham have had trouble finding the back of the net this year — the squad have just seven goals in nine games, and Smith’s single goal is good enough for second-best on the team. Sometimes you have to play a hot hand, and right now that means playing Smith.
Gotham FC, Paige Monaghan 25’
Racing Louisville, Savannah DeMelo 67’
Gotham FC, Taylor Smith 80’
Gotham, Caprice Dydasco, yellow card 23’
Gotham, Imani Dorsey, yellow card 24’
Gotham, McCall Zerboni, yellow card 43’