Gotham Escapes Washington with a Win

By: Hannah Oberman-Breindel
Posted: July 20, 2021

(Image courtesy of NWSL twitter)

On Sunday early evening, after a week filled with off-field drama, NY/NJ Gotham FC was able to leave DC (well really, Virginia) with a win over the Washington Spirit 3-2, and a much needed 3 points. With the win, Gotham has not lost in the last five games, and moves up into 4th in the league table, tied with four other teams at 16 points apiece. The Washington Spirit sit just one point behind Gotham with 15. 

Sunday’s game was a wild one. The Spirit played with only ten players for most of the game. Centerback Sam Staab received a red card in the 7th minute after a tackle of Midge Purce just outside the 18. The referee initially carded Paige Nielsen, but upon conversation with her fellow refs, re-ruled on the play and sent Staab off instead, ostensibly because she denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. Purce took the free kick and hit it straight into the wall. 

Despite playing with only ten, it was the Spirit who scored first. Andi Sullivan played a beautiful ball through to Trinity Rodman, who shot a rocket with her right foot to the left side of the goal. It was the first time this season Gotham had given up a goal in the first half. 

Gotham got on the score sheet off of a Caprice Dydasco corner kick from the left side. Ifeoma Onumonu sent a shot in off the corner that was saved by a Spirit defender off the goal line. But Nahomi Kawasumi, with excellent positioning, followed the rebound and put the ball in the back of the net.

In the 35th minute, McCall Zerboni scored Gotham’s second goal, a header into the top right corner off of a(nother!) corner kick by Caprice Dydasco. Dydasco plays excellent defense week in and week out, but her mobility and facilitation of scoring chances, along with her skill at set pieces, makes her an incredibly valuable piece to the team. 

But Washington fought back. In the 56th minute, Allie Long gave up a foul right outside of the box and on the free kick, Ashley Sanchez sent a no-doubt ball into the back of the bottom right corner of the net and evened the score. For much of the game, in fact, even though the Spirit were down a player, they played Gotham evenly. DiDi Haracic was put in the position of making many heroic saves and once again looked every bit the part of a starting goalie. 

Margaret Purce wreaked havoc all night, with shots on goal coming from close range and far away, with drives down the endline and dancing touches at the top of the box. She was finally rewarded for her efforts with the game winning goal in the 76th minute. Gina Lewandowski won the ball in the defensive third and played it up to a newly subbed in Delanie Sheehan, who drove down the right wing before passing the ball to Ifeoma Onumonu. Onumonu sent a beautiful cross across the box. Purce ran onto it. Shot. Goal. 

It was an especially notable moment for Delanie Sheehan, who was making her NWSL debut. As a senior at UCLA, Sheehan was the Pac-12 Midfielder of the Year, and first-team All Pac-12.

She was drafted 33rd in this year’s NWSL draft and signed a National Team Replacement Contract just one week ago. 

Gotham’s scoring certainly was much improved but their defense gave up two goals for the first time ever this season. The back four looked good, with particularly strong play coming from Estelle Johnson, but there are fewer gaps when Mandy Freeman is on the field as one of the back four. Freeman has been out since injuring her knee in the match against OL Reign on June 26th. 

The midfield similarly missed a centering defensive presence with Jennifer Cudjoe’s absence from the starting lineup (and the entire game). McCall Zerboni, named Gotham’s player of the match, played fiercely at both ends of the field, but Allie Long did not look quite as dominant as usual. When Zerboni, Long, and Cudjoe are on the field at the same time, attacks tend to build up through controlled passing in the center of the field, and the defense feels more anchored. 

Still, it was a wonderful effort by Gotham and a thrilling game, with five goals scored over the course of the 90 minutes by five different players. 

Other notes:

  1. The announcers, Dean Linke and Lisa Roman, continued to mispronounce Ifeoma Onumonu’s name wrong all match. It’s important that announcers learn how to say players’ names before they go on air. It’s a sign of respect, and we all like being called by our names, correct? More insidiously, whether it’s Stephen A. Smith dismissively botching the names of players on the Nigerian Men’s National Basketball team or announcers of various WNBA games fumbling over a player’s name midgame, the names announcers can’t seem to get right are predominantly black and brown players.
  2. Britni de la Cretaz wrote an excellent piece in Vice about this troubling (read: racist) pattern. As Amira Rose Davis, professor of History and African American Studies at Penn State University articulated in de la Cretaz’s article, “[It] is not about the so-called difficulty of a name. It’s about what names are deemed worthy of knowing.”
  3. Not for nothing: Imani Dorsey, who has been starting most games this year at left back, has looked really good in the offensive third. She’s also a powerful force on defense but, just to note, she won Rookie of the Year in 2018 for Sky Blue FC as an attacking player, having scored 4 goals and 1 assist. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if she was shifted back to a more attacking position. 
  1. Gotham is unbeaten in all of its away matches this year, stretching back to the beginning of the Challenge Cup. Go figure. They’ve made the road their home. 
  1. Gotham plays next on Sunday, July 25th against the Chicago Red Stars. The US Women’s National Team, featuring Carli Lloyd, plays Sweden at 4:30am EST on July 21st. Kailen Sheriden and the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team play Chile on Saturday, July 24th at 2:30am. Who’s getting up early? 
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