Gotham’s unbeaten streak has ended with a 1-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.
The match between the NWSL’s two best defensive teams felt mostly even, with North Carolina enjoying the majority of possession in the first half and Gotham picking up the pressure in the second.
The Courage capitalized in the 38th minute. Leading up to the goal, Jess McDonald had put pressure on Gotham by winning a free kick in the Courage’s attacking half. Though Gotham cleared the ball, the Courage quickly attacked again, and Carson Pickett sent a beautiful cross into the box, which Jess McDonald headed onto goal. Gotham goalie Didi Haracic saved McDonald’s shot but wasn’t able to hold onto the ball. Meredith Speck jumped on the rebound and put the ball into the upper left corner.
Except for not clearing the rebound on the Courage goal, Gotham’s back line continued to look strong. Led by a dominant Estelle Johnson (who, as I’ve said before, does not miss on her tackles), Gotham’s defenders played with authority. Despite the absence of Mandy Freeman, who has been out since the end of June with a knee injury, and Imani Dorsey, who sat out this game with an injury to her left foot, Gotham’s back line has not missed a beat. It continues to be very hard for other teams to score.
But Gotham’s offense continues to sputter. Although the NJ/NY side was able to mount more consistent attacks in the second half, Gotham had few dangerous attempts on goal. Gotham missed Midge Purce, who was out with an injured left quad. Purce (who clarified that she doesn’t mind being called “Midge,” even by reporters) is creative with the ball at her feet and brings speed both on and off the ball. When Purce is on the pitch, she also absorbs significant defensive pressure, allowing Ifenoma Onumonu more space in the box.
Perhaps because of Purce’s absence, Onumonu couldn’t get much going. At times, Gotham’s offensive strategy looked like it involved dumping the ball in Onumonu’s direction, and hoping she’d be able to make a chance for herself. Still, there were at least a few moments where she got the ball in good position and didn’t have a clean first touch or put enough pace on a shot.
Still, expecting Onumonu to carry the offense puts a lot of pressure on her. Freya Coombe should continue to look for combinations of players who can create consistent offensive threats. Most of Gotham’s offensive game plan seems to run through right back Caprice Dydasco (who continues to look like an all-NWSL player). Gotham needs other reliable players to generate pressure, particularly in the midfield and forward lines. Against the Courage, it’s worth noting that when Briana Pinto entered in the 69th minute to replace Gaëtane Thiney, Gotham’s attack really picked up. Their best chance at an equalizer came off Pinto’s head in the 90th minute of the game. (Murphy punched the shot over the top of the goal.) Pinto is someone who is perhaps in line to get more minutes as Coombe searches for players who can score for this team.
Gotham’s injured list also contains Paige Monahan, a dynamic attacker, who has been out since May with an injury to her left hamstring. Should some of Gotham’s injured corps get healthy, they, along with Gotham’s players returning from Olympic duty (with gold and bronze medals in tow!), will add much to Gotham’s chances in this NWSL season.