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Gotham FC look to punch playoff ticket on Decision Day

A win over the Kansas City Current and the Goths guarantee a home game in the first round.

Esther Gonzalez is Gotham FC's newest star | Gotham FC

What a difference a year makes. In 2022, Gotham FC ended the 2022 season in last place after enduring a 12-game losing streak. Tomorrow evening, the fourth-place Goths will try to beat the Kansas City Current and lock in home-field advantage in the first round of the NWSL Championship playoffs.

Game Day Essentials

• Matchday 32: Gotham FC vs Kansas City Current

• Date and Time: Sunday, October 14, 5 pm ET

• Venue: Red Bull Arena

• Forecast: Autumnal, crisp, 58˚F/14˚C

• Watch: Paramount+

The fact is, this sharp-edged Gotham FC look nothing like the team that managed just four wins last year, and were held scoreless 12 times. The change started in November 2022, when the club signed head coach Juan Carlos Amorós, formerly of Tottenham Hotspur FC Women, Real Betis Féminas, and the Houston Dash. 

The new team took shape in the offseason, when the club brought in 10 players. The new signings included striker Lynn Williams and defender Kelley O’Hara, both of whom featured for the USWNT in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

And it continued to evolve through the summer, when Gotham signed World Cup-winning striker Esther González. The 30-year-old, who scored 30 goals in 54 appearances for Real Madrid and 27 goals in 38 appearances for the Spanish Women’s National Football Team, now has two goals in four appearances for the Goths.

Now this new-look Gotham are on the verge of advancing to the postseason for just the second time since joining the NWSL in 2015.

Gotham FC playoff appearance is on the line

The playoff picture for Gotham FC is simple: Win and they’re in.

A victory will turn around a late-season stumble that has seen them take just five points out of a possible 15 in their five most recent games. That poor run of form saw them drift down to their current spot in fourth place, while Alex Morgan’s San Diego Wave jumped from the middle of the table to battling for the NWSL Shield. 

Going into Decision Day, Gotham are in the middle of a playoff scrum: Seven teams are competing for four spots, and only three points separate third-place North Carolina Courage and ninth-place Racing Louisville. 

A win and Gotham will finish the season in third or fourth place, depending on the result of the Washington Spirit vs North Carolina game, which means they will host the first round of the NWSL Championship playoffs. 

Although truth be told, that might benefit Gotham’s fans more than the team: The home and away records of the Goths are almost identical, with four wins in each category.

A draw and Gotham will still be in a position to advance, but they could be overtaken by OL Reign, Orlando Pride, and Angel City FC if they win their games by large margins. (The first tiebreak in the NWSL is overall goal differential.) A loss and Gotham could fail to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year. 

Gotham FC players to watch

On paper, the attacking trio of Williams, Gonzalez, and Midge Purce is one of the deadliest in the NWSL. Between them, you have intelligence, experience, speed, and lots of goals. Those three easily defeated Washington Spirit 2-0 at home last month.

But they were held scoreless by the league-leading Portland Thorns on the road last week, where they combined for just three shots. They simply didn’t look sharp. Still, you have to like their chances against a Kansas City that gave up three goals last week to the Chicago Red Stars (in a game they won 6-3), and that allowed eight goals in their last five games.

Another player to watch is goalkeeper Mandy Haught, who started Gotham’s five most recent games after spending most of the season on the bench. The 24-year-old is getting the nod over veteran keeper Michelle Betos, who has yet to play this year, after first-choice keeper Abby Smith was injured in August during a game against San Diego. 

Smith was having a career year until that afternoon. She had seven wins and four clean sheets in 15 league starts, with 45 saves. Her GAA (goals against average) of 1.0 per 90 minutes is second-lowest in the league for goalkeepers with five or more starts. 

Haught’s 1.17 GAA isn’t far behind, and she has earned the trust of Amorós.

Ali Kreiger’s farewell

This will be the final regular season game for veteran defender Ali Kreiger, who will retire this year after a storied career that includes 275 club appearances and 106 caps for the United States National Women’s Team. In that time, Kreiger won two World Cups, two SheBelieves Cups, a UEFA Champions League, the Frauen-Bundesliga title, and two DFB-Pokal cups. 

But Kreiger has yet the win an NWSL title. 

Earlier this year, Kreiger said that the point of the season is to win it all with Gotham. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it just fits,” Krieger said. “In a career filled with blessings, the NWSL title is one of the only trophies I still have yet to win. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point. I’ve always been inspired by winning, competing, and a desire to be the best, and this will be my last chance to win a championship. I’m determined to work with my teammates to make this final goal a reality.”

Indeed, it could become a reality. But first, Gotham need to get a result at Red Bull Arena on Sunday.