The journey to the title lives on as Gotham FC completed a 1-0 win over the reigning champions Portland Thorns FC and are heading to their first NWSL Finals in club history. From coming in last place in 2022, the Bats were just the sixth seed in the tournament, beating all odds to beat North Carolina and the Thorns on their home turf.
Like the path NYCFC took to the finals, Gotham has dominated while playing away from home and will have the final task of trying to win one more match on unfamiliar soil.
Mandy Haught’s breakout in the playoffs
Except for OL Reign, Gotham has not allowed a single goal throughout the playoffs. They have two straight clean sheets in a row, all thanks to Mandy Haught. She has been upstanding since taking over for Abby Smith, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a lower leg injury.
This season, Haught has allowed only eight goals in eight appearances, with two clean sheets in a row. She made a huge play of timing Sophia Smith’s run and denying her a chance to score, which ultimately was the save of the match. Now, she will enter one of the most important matches in her career.
However, she will not be alone as Ali Kriger has done an impressive job as the captain of keeping her back line in check and forming a brick wall for opposing players. With 11 shots from Portland, the team had kept their composure and denied them every opportunity for a goal.
Relying heavily on bench help
The match against the Thorns really began once Gotham started putting in their subs, which changed the pace of play completely. Kristie Mewis returned from injury and was subbed on in the 80th, while Katie Stengel came on during extra time.
It was Mewis' pass to Stengel that changed the whole dynamic after a jaw-dropping upper 90 shot to send Gotham to the finals. Not to mention that Kelley O’Hara is back from her injury, which adds more weapons to the bench.
There is also Sinead Farrelly, who is a big boost off the bench with her ability to complete dribbles and passes successfully when she is on the pitch. Overall, Gotham still has a good front attacking line of Midge Purce, Lynn Williams, and Esther González. Fans are waiting to see the best from the three heading into the season's final match.
Players to watch out for
OL Reign has one of the most talented teams in the league, as there are several key players to keep an eye on. Megan Rapinoe is also entering the final game of her career and is looking to close out her career with her first NWSL title. She has four goals and five assists in 17 matches while recording 74 crosses (13 accurate) with 36 key passes this season.
There is also USWNT midfielder Rose Lavelle, who is known to be lethal on the side of the field with her crossing abilities. Not to mention there is the goal-scoring duo of Bethany Balcer and Jordyn Huitema, who combined have scored 11 goals in 24 games.
On the goalkeeping side, Phallon Tullis-Joyce transferred to Manchester City in September. As such, Claudia Dickey has taken over the keeper duties for Reign, holding on to five clean sheets while allowing five goals in eight games this season.
Head-to Head matchups
The NWSL finals will be held at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, a neutral ground for both teams. Since 2015, OL Reign has led in head-to-head matchups with ten wins, six draws, and six losses. During the 2023 season, Gotham FC thrashed OL Reign 4-1 in Washington, while the Reign beat Gotham at home 2-0.
This looks to be an equal matchup, especially with two World Cup winners heading into the final games of their careers, both looking for their first NWSL Championship before ending their careers.
The Championship between NJ/NY Gotham FC and OL Reign is set to take place on Saturday, November 11 at 8 PM EST.