For the first time in the club's history, NJ/NY Gotham FC will play in the NWSL Championship. The accomplishment comes on the back of the team's 1-0 win at the Portland Thorns on Sunday, knocking out the reigning champions courtesy of a stunning goal from Katie Stengel in the 107th minute.
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The game showcased the visitors' defensive resolve, which has been the theme of their run to the championship. The defense also shone bright in their 2-0 win at the North Carolina Courage in the quarterfinals, allowing them to showcase the blueprint for a win over one of the league's most successful teams. The win also means that two-time Women's World Cup winner Ali Krieger will end her storied career with a trophy on the line.
Here are three takeaways from Gotham's big win.
For Juan Carlos Amoros' Gotham, defense is the key to everything. It's true that his attack-minded style of play often begins the fullbacks, Bruninha and rookie Jenna Nighswonger, forward. The whole team's ability to defend as a unit, though, has really been the success of Amoros' system during the team's run to the championship.
It was a tall task against the Thorns, who were the highest-scoring team during the regular season and boast Golden Boot winner Sophia Smith. The home team's stacked offense did manage 11 shots but were was to muster much in terms of quality shots. Only three of the Thorns' opportunities found the target and totaled just 0.62 in expected goals.
Gotham's defensive strength truly empowered them going forward and even allowed them to dominate in possession and manage two more shots than the hosts. The visitors also struggled to create meaningful shots, which is also to the credit of the Thorns' defense -- they also had three shots on target and just 0.5 expected goals. For the underdogs, though, the job was to stymie the favorites and press your luck going forward, and in Gotham's case, the plan played out in fine form.
The playoff success is a remarkable accomplishment for Gotham, who are one year into the on-field rebuild led by Amoros and two years after Yael Averbuch West took over as the team's general manager. Amoros fits a specific tactical vision that's new for the club, and though the players describe it as challenging, they have also latched onto it fairly quickly.
In the post-match press conference, the head coach described his tactical approach as "always trying to be offensive, always trying to be versatile, solid, aggressive, being engaging and fun to watch." At its best, the team operates completely as a unit either in offense or defense and allowed them to go from worst in the league a year ago to the championship game in a few days' time.
"One of the parts that is in our DNA that we work incredibly hard [on] is to make the players understand that defending is the first part of our offensive approach to the game," Amoros said. "Jesus [Botello Hermosa, head of tactical analysis] and myself work really hard to make them understand their role and responsibilities because if they do those roles defensively, we're going to create things offensively. I think that our first defender is the No. 9, our last defender is the No. 1 but it's the same the other way. Our first offensive player is our No. 1. I think that's something that the team understands really well and plays into."
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This year's edition of the NWSL playoffs have also served as retirement watch for Krieger and the OL Reign's Megan Rapinoe, and Gotham's win confirms that Krieger will play for at least one more championship before she hangs up her boots.
Her impending retirement has delivered extra incentive for the team in the playoffs, with goalkeeper Mandy Haught saying the team was not quite ready to send her off before Saturday's championship.
"We all just feel this need to keep Ali Krieger in this game and to keep playing and it's just this amazing camaraderie in this group," she said. "We're going to do this for us, we're going to do this for Kriegs. We're not done yet. We're going to go all the way."