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Gotham FC Instant Reaction: A team goal, a team win

Esther scored the only goal in the well-earned victory, but the entire squad deserves the credit.

Gotham FC striker Esther will get credit for tonight's win.

After all, she scored the only goal in the 0-1 triumph over the Portland Thorns at Providence Park in front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 19,000 spectators. That goal didn't just get Gotham off to a perfect 1-0-0 start to the 2024 season, it handed Portland their first home-opener loss in club history. It's a small consolation, but a 10-year streak ain't bad.

Esther will get credit for the win because goals win games. Besides, a goal looks better on a highlight real than a nice run of play that ends with the ball going out of bounds, or an efficient series of passes between defenders that eats up time and forces the opposing attackers to jog in circles. Soccer might be "a simple game with 22 players who run around for 90 minutes," to paraphrase Gary Lineker, but we fixate on the 10-second clips.

But this game was played for 90 minutes – plus another 15 combined minutes of stoppage time – and it was a team win. It was built on a solid defense anchored by Tierna Davidson and Samantha Hiatt, both of whom joined the club this season. They couldn't fully contain a Portland attack that looked dangerous throughout the match, but goalkeeper Cassie Miller made six saves to earn her first clean sheet for Gotham.

And Esther's goal was a team goal. It started when Bruninha, making a substitute appearance, made a slicing pass up the line that covered one-third of the field to find Yazmeen Ryan, who came on at the end of the first half. Ryan takes two touches to carry it into the box, then places a perfect pass that threads through four Portland defenders to find Esther waiting just inside the penalty spot. It's a pleasing goal to watch.

To be sure, Esther deserves full credit for burying her shot. She laces it low and to the right, sending Portland goalkeeper Shelby Hogan the wrong way. Goals that send the keeper diving in the opposite direction should count for more than one point.

The goal was as confident as it was aesthetically pleasing. Vision, technique, speed, spatial awareness: It had it all. Below you'll see a field-side view.

All the more impressive, Gotham logged this win in the unfriendly home of the Thorns without a number of their best players. First-choice goalkeeper Abby Smith hasn't played since August of last year. Superstar midfielder Rose Lavelle is recovering from an injury suffered while playing with the United States women's national team in the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup. Lynn Williams, Gotham's leading goalscorer last year when the won the NWSL title, is also out with an injury.

On top of that, Midge Purce had to leave at the end of the first half. She was replaced by Ryan.

But Gotham didn't look like a depleted team hoping to hang on against an always-excellent Portland that finished in second place last year — four spots above Gotham. They looked sure of themselves, and capable of grinding out a win on the plastic grass of Providence Park against a talented Thorns.

After all, that's exactly what Gotham did last November in the NWSL Championship Semifinals, when they beat the Thorns by the now-familiar score of 0-1.