NWSL: Bats unleashed: Can Gotham swarm Washington Spirit?

Denise Duffy and Jonathon Hagger combine to provide a detailed preview of Washington Spirit’s game against Gotham FC, plus we report on Gotham’s newly announced link up with Benfica (25/5/23).

Above: Jenna Nighswonger celebrates scoring for Gotham FC. Photo: Devon Cafaro / Gotham FC.

Gotham FC, previously the bottom dweller of the NWSL, has surprised everyone by securing the top spot entering round nine. Following a remarkable 4-1 triumph over the OL Reign, the team has now earned the status of a genuine contender in the league.

Their next challenge is against the Washington Spirit, a team that endured a similar struggle last year but has now climbed to tie for second place in the league standings. The simultaneous rise of these two teams exemplifies the unpredictable nature of the NWSL.

Lynn Williams describes experiencing feelings of happiness each time she steps on the pitch. It seems that it is infectious as the Gotham FC team is using it as its engine.

“With soccer, no matter how much pressure we put on ourselves and how much stress we put on ourselves, at the end of the day it’s a child’s game, it’s supposed to be played with joy and happiness.” said forward Lynn Williams.

Washington Spirit will be looking to bounce back from a surprising 2-1 loss to the Orlando Pride. This match will be played at Spirit’s home ground of Audi Park on Sunday 28th May.


Washington started the 2023 season in fine form notching up four wins and three draws through their first seven games. The most recent 2-1 upset loss against the Orlando Pride will have the players and coaching staff eager to make amends for last week’s effort.

On the other side of the pitch, Gotham FC comes into the match playing decisive football. They are brimming with confidence after taking down the OL Reign with a 4-1 win. This is in stark contrast to the team who finished last in 2022. Gotham midfielder Delanie Sheehan commented on Gotham’s form so far, “Coming off of last year at the bottom of the table, it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s early.”

Both teams enter the match with the exact same goal differentials – each team has scored eleven goals and conceded seven goals through eight rounds of play.

Gotham FC’s coach has mastered the coaching of the 4-3-3 formation which is the predominant way that the side lineup each match. Given the amazing depth of player talent in the squad, Coach Amoros has taken to switching players from week to week, knowing that he can rely upon whoever he selects to deliver a top-quality performance.

“We always talk about how competitive our training environment is, how much the players fight for those positions,” Gotham FC coach, Juan Carlos Amorós said.

Above: Bruninha gets a shot away for Gotham FC. Photo: Devon Cafaro / Gotham FC.

Often the right player in the right place at the right time, Bruninha is one that is making a name for herself in this league sprinkled with Brazilians. While her physical stature is small her presence on the field is making waves. Scoring her first goal of the season in her last match, she will be hungry to contribute more top-drawer performances to the team as she looks to be at her very best form as she lines up for Brazil in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The outcome of this match hinges upon the midfield’s ability to control the match’s tempo and rhythm. Gotham boasts a dynamic midfield composed of strong leaders, who will attempt to assert their dominance in terms of possession. Some players to watch

  • Jenna Nighswonger – Forward/Defender. Nighswonger was a draft pick selection for Gotham FC and she has slotted into a very mature squad. There is little doubt that Nighswonger has found her sweet spot in the team, surrounded by the best of the best, resulting in her delivering results. She scored a contender for goal of the season in her last match firing the ball from well outside the goal area, putting the ball cleanly past the Reign keeper. Our eyes are fully on her to continue to swarm the goal.
  • Taylor Smith – Forward. Smith is over her days of coaches putting her into the wrong position. At forward, Taylor dominates the front field and completes the triangle of terror that is the Gotham FC attack. Smith has started and played the full 90 minutes for four matches, contributing to the scoring statistics with one goal and one assist.
  • Ali Krieger – Winning is sharpening up Krieger. Look for her to continue leading and making decisive plays. With a creative Washington Spirit coming at her, she will need to get her positioning right and her motor on. 

Washington Spirit are a team still working on their chemistry and on-field partnerships.

  • Ashley Hatch – Forward. Hatch is a prolific goal scorer. If she is switched on, Hatch can be a real problem for Gotham, especially in the air. A member of Washington’s squad attempting to make the USWNT, Hatch will hope Vlatko is watching.
  • Ashley Sanchez – Midfielder. Creative genius on the pitch. Sanchez will also be hungry to take down Gotham. 
  • Sam Staab – Defender. Former A-Leaguer, Staab is a mainstay of the Washington backline. She’s also proven she can score some herself. She finished all eight matches this season.

The Spirit’s secret weapon this weekend could well be the huge wave of fan support they get when playing at home. With an average home game attendance of 10,000 supporters, they will need to bring the energy to lift their team’s spirits (pun intended!).

What to expect in this match –

  • Gotham FC’s impressive record of four away wins establishes them as the favourite. In contrast, the Spirit have recorded two wins both at home and away. The difference between these two teams lies in Gotham FC’s converting opportunities into victories.
  • Lynn Williams vs Trinity Rodman. These two superstars of the women’s game line up against each other and it will be as exciting a matchup as they come. Rodman has accrued almost twice as many shot-creating actions than Williams, however, Williams has made twice as many tackles.


Red = Denise. Orange = Jonathon.

Keeper – Abby Smith (probable) or Mandy Haught (possible) vs Aubrey Kingsbury. Coach Amoros has demonstrated that he is happy to switch around his starting players. It is very likely that Abby Smith will start as her form in goal suits the high press style of play that Gotham implements. Kingsbury has the best shots saved percentage in the NWSL with more than 80% of shot attempts not finishing in the goal. The Gotham FC forwards will need to be creative in front of goal to get around Kingsbury. 

We are split. Kingsbury has something to prove right before the World Cup. She could make the USWNT as the third keeper. Jonathon gives the checkmark to Abby Smith. She’s been brave and unafraid to put her body on the line.

Backline – Amber Brooks, Sam Staab, Tara McKeown, Gabrielle Carle.  With a non-stop commitment to winning the ball, Carle is having a year. The Spirit are going to need their entire defensive line to contribute in defence and in playmaking if they want to get a win. Giving a slight nod to Washington.

Midfield – The Spirit have lined up in a few different formations however they have settled into a heavily defensive midfield with two strikers upfront. This formation provides opportunities to transition from defence into attack with an emphasis on maintaining possession. Andi Sullivan will need to have a solid game controlling the pace and possession of the match. Gotham have demonstrated a willingness to exploit openings on the wings with Farrelly and Mewis providing quality passes to strikers to get shots on. We are choosing Gotham to win the midfield.

Front Line – Spirit’s stars of Hatch, Rodman, and Sanchez need to have quality on the ball and off to win this. No doubt they have it. Gotham’s Lynn Williams will be putting in a shift to get it done and put a stake in the ground around which team is the real deal. The form that Williams has been playing with so far this season gives her an edge in this matchup.

Coaching – Laura Harvey v Juan Carlos Amorós. Like all the elements of this match, the two coaches are difficult to separate in terms of an advantage. Harvey has a team of hardworking stars and Amorós has a team full of experience and class. Edge goes to Harvey. I think she will have no problem motivating her team in front of their hometown fans at Lumen Field as she directs them from her water cooler.

Back Office – An article about the Washington Spirit cannot go by without a mention of Michele Kang. After her takeover of the Washington Spirit last year, Kang is becoming the majority owner of OL Groupe’s Olympique Lyonnaise Féminin, historically the biggest brand in women’s football. Powerful female owners in football are a thing now. She’s writing her own book on how to do it. One key choice she made was the re-hiring of Mark Parsons into the league, a person who knows how to win in the NWSL.

Fans, Stadium and Social Media – Now that the Audi Field curse is squarely in the rearview mirror, the advantage has to go to the hometown side. The Spirit Squadron is one of the most thoughtful and active supporter groups out there. Advantage DC.

Gotham FC announce link-up with Benfica

Above: Benfica and Gotham FC are partnering up. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Gotham FC.

SL Benfica, one of the world’s most historic and best-known football clubs, and Gotham FC, the top-ranked club in the National Women’s Soccer League, yesterday announced a transformative partnership aimed at advancing women’s soccer development and expanding their global reach. 

As Gotham FC affiliates with one of the top clubs in Europe known for player development, Gotham FC will have access to the knowledge and world-renowned methodologies of SL Benfica, which boasts one of the best youth academies in the world. Through collaboration and shared expertise, Gotham FC can enhance its player development systems and further strengthen the club’s competitive edge in the NWSL. 

SL Benfica, with a focus on strategic positioning in the vibrant Portuguese community of New Jersey and New York, aims to deepen its roots in the region and tap into the rich reservoir of talent and passion for football. 

In addition to creating future player transaction opportunities, the partnership also opens potential avenues for growth, collaboration, and business opportunities off the pitch. 

Through this partnership, SL Benfica is poised to gain invaluable knowledge and insights from the North American women’s soccer landscape. By closely studying the advancements and best practices in women’s football in the region, Benfica seeks to enhance its own player development programs and strengthen its position as a leader in talent development on a global scale. 

One of the key elements of the collaboration is the establishment of a preference agreement, enabling Benfica to identify and recruit talented players from Gotham FC to play in Europe. This mutually beneficial arrangement offers exceptional opportunities for young players to gain exposure, develop their skills, and potentially thrive in the European football market, through this new pathway created.

Additionally, the partnership presents an array of communication opportunities that will allow both clubs to leverage the strength of each other’s brand. SL Benfica aims to gain international leverage in the rapidly growing women’s football market, while Gotham FC can tap into Benfica’s prestige and reputation as a powerhouse in European football. 

“Benfica can benefit a lot from this partnership because women’s soccer in the U.S. is very advanced, with millions of federated players. With the investment that Benfica has made we believe that we will reach higher levels in women’s soccer and this partnership and relationship with the USA will contribute to that”, said Bernardo Faria de Carvalho, Global Expansion Director at Benfica. 

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