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Gotham FC open Challenge Cup with win

The Goths start the year with three wins out of four games in all competions.

Gotham FC celebrates after scoring against Washington Spirit | Gotham FC

Gotham FC opened up the 2023 Challenge Cup tournament with a 1-0 win over Washington Spirit. A lone goal from Lynn Williams earned the Goths their second consecutive victory in all competitions, and an important three points in the group stage of the Challenge Cup. 

”I know it still obviously wasn’t the most beautiful game ever, but we got the result and that was the most important thing,” midfielder Kristie Mewis said after the game. “I think that all of the game-changers that came on and people who stepped up today who haven’t played in the past couple of games just did an amazing job and I think we owe it all to them.”

Game Stats
Gotham FC: 14 shots, 5 on goal, 51.4% possession, 398 passes, 70.6% accuracy, 11 fouls
Washington Spirit: 5 shots, 2 on goal, 48.6% possession, 382 passes, 64.4% accuracy, 10 fouls

Dangerous from the opening whistle

An organized and dangerous Gotham dominated the first half but went into the break empty-handed. A balanced midfield saw Sinned Farrley join the attack, while McCall Zerboni anchored the trio behind Mewis. Play regularly flowed up the left side of the field, largely through Bruninha and Lynn Williams. Svava Rós Guðmundsdóttir joined in on the link-up play and was the target of eventual crosses but saw her night end at the halftime break with her left leg wrapped up. 

The Spirit had the best of their chances on both sides of the halftime whistle. A cross from Paige Metayer made its way to the back post where an unmeaningful touch denied Marissa Sheva the opener in first-half stoppage time. Washington threatened again two minutes into the second half when Nicole Douglas tested Mandy Haught from a close-range but tight-angled attempt. 

Lynn Williams, who led the game in shots (four) and shots on goal (two), broke the deadlock in the 56th minute. 

The 29-year-old forward knocked down a cross from Farrley to the feet of Mewis, who returned the pass. The Spirit backline was slow to react to the sequence of play, giving Williams space to fire past Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury with her left foot.

“I definitely could have hit it but I just kind of trusted her and I feel like we kind of have a good little thing going,” said Mewis. I knew I would have gotten so yelled at if that didn’t go in if I didn’t take the shot. So I was fingers crossed, but I knew she was going to score.”

The hosts nearly added to their lead with a pair of dangerous chances entering the final 30 minutes of the match. Allie Long was denied her first goal since 2021 when a free-kick redirected by Ellie Jean fell to her feet. Zerboni was dealt the same fate but from the post just four minutes later. The midfielder stood her defender up after receiving the ball from Midge Purce, taking a pair of touches before watching her shot bounce off the far post. 

“I think it’s just about our composure, I don’t think our composure is very good right now in the attacking third,” added Mewis. “It’s definitely improving but I think that’s what’s going to separate us and see if we can actually get into the attacking third be composed, complete our passage in the box and get some finishes. It’s incredible how much potential we have so I’m just so excited to continue working with the girls and just get better every single game.”

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Jean and Taylor Smith made their first starts of 2023, pairing with Ali Krieger and Bruninha in the backline en route to the team’s third clean sheet of the year. 

“We did our subs today but that shows the depth of the squad, we need everyone to win,” head coach Juan Carlos Amorós said. “I told them we need everyone and now I have a headache because those are the players performing up to understand if not better than a teammate.”

The win puts Gotham on top of the Eastern division of the Challange Cup, two points above the Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage who shared points in a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium. Gotham returns to league action on Saturday at 7:30 ET when it welcomes the Courage to Red Bull Arena. 

Schedule shift

Wednesday’s match was the first of the reformatted Challenge Cup, an annual tournament featuring all 12 of the National Women’s Soccer League clubs. Originally held in 2020 as a way to play games during the COVID-19 pandemic, the league kept the tournament as a preseason competition for the last two years. Gotham nearly took home the 2021 edition of the tournament, but fell short in a penalty shootout to the Portland Thorns.

Beginning this year, Challenge Cup games are largely held during the midweek of the regular season, following a similar competition format as the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Teams are split into three groups of four, playing each other twice before the winners and best-performing runner-up move onto a pair of semi-finals.

“I love the European setup,” Mewis said. “Having something like a Challenge Cup, whereas they have the FA Cup and the Continental Cup, I think it’s kind of just showing how much the NWSL is building and I think it’s really cool that we’re doing it this way. It’s obviously tough because in America there’s a lot of travel whereas in Europe and it’s a little bit easier to get around. So I think those midweek games can be difficult.”

Gotham return to Challenge Cup play on May 3 against the North Carolina Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park.

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Haught gets the nod in goal

The pecking order for who gets to play between the sticks seems to be clearing up when head coach Juan Carlos Amorós named Mandy Haught the starting keeper for Wednesday’s Challenge Cup opener. Michelle Betos, a starter for 14 league games last year, appears to have moved to third choice.

Haught, who spent 2022 on loan with Piteå IF in Sweeden’s Damallsvenskan, wasn’t tested much but was equal to the pair of shots she faced and was quickly coming off her line to put out a few fires. 

“I was ready for it,” Haught said regarding the start. “The level is so high and I’m surrounded by amazing goalkeepers that have been around for a while. So it’s just awesome to learn from them. We hold a very high standard and I’m just really happy to be part of that group.”

Given her initial selection and solid performance, it would be hard for Amorós to drop her for the next Challenge Cup game despite post-game comments.

“I think I’m in a very particular situation because I’ve never had three goalkeepers of such a similar level, that level being so high,” said the head coach. “Amanda [Haught] has been the one that has played today but they know they can’t relax they compete for a position just like the rest. The other day we got a clean sheet with Abby [Smith] today we got a clean sheet with Mandy. I’m very happy with the level of performance and obviously not just in games but also in our training. Michelle hasn’t had a chance just yet but I’m very happy with the three of them.”