NJ/NY Gotham FC started their new era on Wednesday night with a 1-0 away win over Orlando Pride at Exploria Stadium in the opening game of the NWSL Challenge Cup. Paige Monahan notched the first goal in the club’s new branding scheme.
Though Gotham had an early chance to take control when a penalty was awarded for a handball in the Pride box just ten minutes in, an Ashlyn Harris save on Nahomi Kawasumi’s effort ensured the match stayed scoreless until it’s final stages. But in the 79th minute it was Monaghan who bagged the winner on the new brand’s first night, latching onto a pinpoint cross from Ifeoma Onumonu and slotting the ball past Harris from point blank range. From there NJNY closed out the match in relatively (for a late night NWSL game) calm fashion, only surviving a couple late looping headers to exit Orlando with their first win of the season.
Didi Haracic earned woman of the match honors for Gotham, putting in an impressive shift as the club’s temporary starting goalkeeper. With traditional number one Canadian international Kailen Sheridan out until summer, one of the biggest questions heading into the season for GFC was whether her absence would be a devastating blow for a team without a clearly-defined backup. Haracic appears to have earned Coach Freya Coombe’s trust as the starter for the immediate future, and if she can maintain the form she showed today it will be a lot easier for Gotham to survive Sheridan’s recovery time.
In the outfield, however, there was very little to write home about aside from the goal. It was a relatively weak performance from Coombe’s side, who only really bested Orlando due to the common law that boring triumphs bad. Though the defense looked sturdy (with Gina Lewandowski in particular standing out), Gotham’s performance appeared relatively tepid and plodding. Though such a showing comes in the context of the team’s most talented player in Midge Purce and midfield general in McCall Zerboni being unavailable for selection, it’s not without note that the lone goal NJ/NY scored came from a quick break down the wing, and not a slow build-up through the middle. Whether Coombe begins to implement a more direct style of play- at least until the roster is at full strength- should be interesting given the success it displayed in flashes today.
Sky Blue will now return to New Jersey for their second match of the Challenge Cup next week, with the North Carolina Courage coming to town for a Tuesday night showdown at MSU Soccer Park.