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Road Warriors: Gotham FC notch league-best third away win

Mandy Haught got the start in goal as the Goths earned a vital three points on the road.

That winning feeling | Gotham FC

Gotham FC secured a 1-2 win against the Chicago Red Stars, wrapping up a three-game road trip with a big three points. The Goths capitalized on a pair of Chicago mistakes to secure their third away win of the year, and now sit in fourth place just one point behind National Women’s Soccer League leaders OL Reign. 

The opening goal came just five minutes into the game when Jenna Nighswonger opened her professional account with a back post finish. The 22-year-old got on the end of Tierna Davidson’s poor clearance attempt, finishing Taylor Smith’s cross from two yards. 

Nighwonger’s night ended twenty minutes later when a cut to her knee required stitches. Sinead Farrlley was the choice of Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós to replace the goalscorer, and the Republic of Ireland international showed why shortly after.

Farrlley was all over the field throughout the night, recovering possession in the defensive half just ahead of Kelly O’Hara and moments later forcing a turnover just behind Lynn Williams. The 33-year-old’s quick reaction and awareness set up Gotham’s second just before the break. Farrlley cut off the pass of Red Stars defender Tatumn Milazzo and found Williams with a perfectly lofted pass. Williams punished Davidson for giving her space by firing her sixth goal of the year into the bottom left corner.

The two-goal lead shortly didn’t look to be enough when the Red Stars came out much more organized and threatening in the second half. When the hosts cut the deficit in half through Ella Stevens’s unmarked header on a corner kick, it would be a long 36 minutes to secure the result. 

Chicago tested Gotham’s backline with a series of chances shortly after Stevens’s goal. Chicago’s Penelope Hocking sent a left-footed shot through the legs of Kelley O’Hara before it bounced off the outside of the post, then she was on the end of a routine ball that slipped past two Gotham defenders but saw her right-footed attempt drag wide of Mandy Haught.

The win moves Gotham FC to a league-best 3-0-1 on the road in 2023. They return to Red Bull Arena Sunday, May 14 to take on the Orlando Pride.

Game Stats

Gotham FC: 14 shots, 7 on goal, 49.2% possession, 414 passes, 73.7% accuracy, 11 fouls

Chicago Red Stars: 8 shots, 4 on goal, 50.8% possession, 419 passes, 69.9% accuracy, 11 fouls

Competing keepers

The decision to start Mandy Haught in goal Sunday saw Amóros back his continued message that there is not a clear-cut first choice between the sticks. Abby Smith was replaced after getting the nod in the opening five NWSL regular season games, shaking things up in an important position.

“We run a different situation to what is done maybe at other clubs where there is always the number one but for us, we try to see how they perform, the same as their teammates, who can apply the game plan better,” said Amorós. “That position is the same as the others not because I specifically want it but because we’ve got three very good players in them.”

Amorós cited Michelle Betos’s leadership as the quality that earned her a start in Wednesday’s Challenge Cup draw with the North Carolina Courage. With Ali Krieger back in the Starting XI in Chicago, that role was filled and Haught got the nod. Haught had a similarly quiet night as her first start of the year in last month’s 1-0 Challenge Cup win. She may have been left out too dry for Chicago’s goal but was equal to each chance she faced otherwise.

“We wanted Mandy to play today because she’s got great distribution,” said Amorós. “It really changes depending on the game and on how they train.” 

Betos will have to wait a few weeks to build upon her first start of the year after it was revealed she suffered broken bones in one of her hands during the win. This leaves Smith and Haught to battle for game time in the upcoming stretch of league action.

The new kid shines

Jenna Nighswonger’s rookie season took off this week, adding onto her assist Wednesday with her first-ever NWSL goal. The Florida State University alum got her first start of the season in midfield and quickly showed why she prefers playing higher up the field. 

Nighswonger may not have been the intended target for Taylor Smith’s cross but she made the necessary run to lose her defender and reaped the benefits when the deflection fell toward the back post.

“We knew that the width was gonna be key,” Amorós said. “It worked very well between her [Nighswonger], Bruninha, and Kristie [Mewis]. The first half was really enjoyable to watch from the sidelines as a coach to see how they were linking up with each other, how composed they were on the ball so I think it was you know, it was a bit of the reasoning behind it.”

• Lynn Williams salvages draw for Gotham FC in Challenge Cup

She first jumped into the team at left-back when Ali Krieger was forced off injured in the opening game of the season. Since impressing against Angel City, Nighswonger has made four more appearances in defense, including two starts.

“I was really excited to have a more forward role, it was nice to be involved in a few different attacks,” Nighswonger said. “We really wanted to exploit the wide areas so I think Bruninha and I just had a good pairing in doing that.

A cut to the knee forced Nighswonger off in the 27th minute for stitches, keeping her in contention for Sunday.