So much good has come out of NJ/NY Gotham FC in 2023, and one of them is Jenna Nighswonger. The NWSL Rookie of the Year became an instant star in the league, adjusting to the new style of play in just a few months. She also loves to turn things into gold, with 2023 being the second year that the young player had won a piece of hardware in three years.
Nighswonger was born in Huntington Beach, California, an area rich in young soccer talent. She started her youth program playing for the Slammers FC, an elite soccer program located in Costa Mesa, California. While with the Slammers, she also began her national team journey as part of their US Youth Olympic program.
Nighswonger led her club team to an ECNL title win at just the age of 14 as she remained with the club until she committed to Florida State University in 2019. In four seasons with the Seminoles, she started 54 of the 80 matches played, scoring 18 goals while logging in 34 assists.
She also won the NCAA DI title in 2021, having just been a finalist the year prior. However, 2022 was her best season in college as she was awarded ACC Tournament MVP and was a finalist for the 2022 MAC Hermann Award.
Jenna Nighswonger became a star in 2023
Nighswonger was about to play her fifth year of college ball but decided to turn pro after her senior year. She was drafted fourth overall by Gotham FC during the 2023 NWSL Draft. Only Alyssa Thompson, Michelle Cooper, and Emily Madril were drafted before her.
She made her official debut for Gotham on March 26 off the bench against Angel City FC. The biggest challenge for Nighswonger was switching her role from an attacker to a defender. Head coach Juan Carlos Amorós moved Nighswonger to the left-back position for more versatility on the sides, which proved to be the best move for both parties.
Nighswonger spoke to CBS Sports regarding her new position. She said the following:
"I think I do see myself more as an attacking mid-player but I am now a left-back. I think just taking what I used to do in the attack and use my vision just to play a new position. We talk a lot about how it's just a role on the field and we try to do a lot of different rotations and things so I don't really feel like I'm just a left back, which I like. Sometimes I can play the 10, the 11. I think that's definitely been helpful."- Jenna Nighswonger
Because of this move, Nighswonger made 20 starts in 23 appearances, recording three goals while producing 23 interceptions and 66 crosses (18 accurate). This was enough to win her NWSL Rookie of the Year while also helping the team win their first NWSL title.
Nighswonger could also be a regular for the USWNT after making her senior debut in a friendly against China back in December. This could result in an even better 2024 campaign if the young wingback keeps up her momentum with a fully revamped NJ/NY Gotham FC for the new season.