NJ/NY Gotham FC escaped from the Banc of California Stadium Sunday night with a much-needed victory and 3 points — defeating Angel City 0-1 on a goal from Ifeoma Onumonu in the 57th minute.
The win comes after two consecutive league losses for Gotham and may just help curb the sense of anxiety that was beginning to build around the club after a disappointing start to the season, which had been plagued by uncharacteristic goal concessions, a goal drought of their own, and a genuine spell of poor fortune.
The difference, coach Scott Parkinson said following the match, was a newfound unity his Gotham side played with Sunday.
“They really did things together today and collaboratively, and stuck to somewhat of the game plan. And I think when you do that, I think that’s when you earn your luck. I think if you’re a bit fragmented, if you’re a bit disconnected, if you kind of go away from the plan, I think it’s hard to collectively make your own luck in this league because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a year like it. Everyone is pretty even,” said Parkinson.
Much was made prior to the match that the two sides had the potential for a great rivalry, with New York (and sometimes New Jersey!) and Los Angeles being natural enemies in this country’s sporting history. Already, the two have their own history — despite Angel City being a nascent football club — as Gotham supporters will not soon forget LA wooing away their then-head coach Freya Coombe in the middle of the club’s breakout season. After a week of social media banter, the table was set for a spicy affair.
And yet, a great deal of the match lacked that kind of bite. The beginning phases were played in transition, with Angel City marginally having the better of the play. Gotham had moments where they started to build, but their play near the final third continued to let them down.
Twelve minutes into the second half, perhaps against the run of play, Gotham found the breakthrough. The move started in their own defensive end after Ali Krieger cut out a cross into Gotham’s 18-yard box. Margaret Purce then gathered the ball and started driving up along the right-hand side of the pitch, with Caprice Dydasco making a parallel run in front of her. Purce laid it off to Dydasco in their attacking third where the right-back unleashed a cross to the top of the 18. An awaiting Onumonu was unable to control the cross, with the ball bouncing off her chest and into the feet of LA’s Vanessa Gilles. The center back, however, did not act fast enough to clear the ball, allowing Purce to deflect the ball back into the path of a now-unmarked Onumonu. She took it sweetly on her right foot, beating DiDi Haracic near post.
From there, Gotham took control of the game, putting their foot on the ball and dominating possession. But in the final ten minutes, Angel City made one last push— and the game started to live up to its rivalry billing.
It was the kind of tension in that final stretch that Hollywood directors could only hope to manufacture in their films — as Angel City earned corner kick after corner kick (totaling an insane 15 on the night) and Gotham players desperately cleared balls from the 6-yard box. The charge began in the 80th minute when Christen Press struck a ball from the top of the 18 that was destined for the far post corner before Ashlyn Harris intervened to make a save that then ricocheted off the post before a Gotham player could send it clear of danger. The waning minutes saw several scrums in front of Gotham’s goal, with the ball needing only to be poked over the line by an LA player — but inexplicably, Harris was able to keep the clean sheet, and tally a historic 500th career save in the process.
At the final whistle, the Gotham players huddled together, wrapping their arms around one another — displaying the “togetherness” Parkinson spoke of after the match.
“There’s no secret that we’ve lost the last couple games. And I think having a rough start of our season kind of took a toll on us all — mentally, emotionally. And so at the end, it was just, relief, in a way, as well as just high-fiving each other because, ultimately, it took the entire team to pull out that win,” Onumonu said after the match. “It was really just like celebrating each other and what we’ve just accomplished.”
Harris echoed Onumonu’s pride in the team’s resilience to hold on for the result, and — as no stranger to the topsy-turvy nature of the NWSL — was able to offer a veteran’s perspective about the poor stretch the team had been on.
“With the NWSL, you can’t get too high on the wins, and you can’t get too low on the losses because it is the best league in the world when it comes to, at any given day, anyone can win in this league,” she said. “And it’s not like that around the world. So it’s really, really hard, and every weekend you have to show up.”
New Way Forward?
Gotham defended more cohesively as a team Sunday, and one change in midfield may have contributed to that. Rookie Taryn Torres stepped in as the holding midfielder for her first regular season start — allowing McCall Zerboni to disrupt play and win the ball back higher up the pitch.
“We felt the game needed another player in there with McCall, and Taryn was the one that edged it over the last few weeks. When you have fast players, like we do, you have to bring the team on to you in order to create space. And she did that for us today,” Parkinson said. “And I think the game is so connected that I believe that we all showed the best out of McCall. And I think it was because she had a partner in crime next to and she wasn’t on her own, she wasn’t isolated. If one of them made a mistake, they had that togetherness to be able to solve problems for each other.”
With that performance, Gotham will hope they’ve turned a corner in their season. The win certainly energized Onumonu, who spoke of a hunger catalyzed by her first goal of the season.
“In this game for me, one wasn’t enough. I wanted more … [So] this is where we start pushing off from here, this is where we take off from here,” she said. “Coming here, with the fans that they have, I think it’s probably going to be one of our more high-stress games of the season. And so the fact that we’re able to come away and win, it just kind of makes it feel like we’re capable of anything.”