NWSL 2023: How Gotham FC’s key passing, positional flexibility and defensive compactness helped them top the NWSL so far – scout report
Gotham FC had a very disappointing NWSL season in 2022 after finishing at the bottom of the standings and failing to achieve their minimum seasonal targets. This failure led to a recurrent change of head coaches.
Scott Parkinson was fired after failing to achieve the needed results as he wasn’t able to make the team finish higher than the season before. In fact, the team reached the quarter-finals of the playoffs in the 2021 season after finishing 5th in the standings. But in 2022, they had a very disappointing season and finished in 12th with only 13 points from 22.
Following 2022’s disappointing season with Scott Parkinson and then Hue Menzies as head coach, Gotham FC hired Juan Carlos Amorós as their new head coach and his results during the 2023 season are excellent so far. Amorós had a relatively long coaching career in women’s football as he coached Tottenham Women from 2011 to 2020 in the WSL before moving to Real Betis Women for a year in The Primera División de la Liga de Fútbol Femenino, the equivalent of the men’s La Liga. Then, he moved to Houston Dash as interim for the 2022 season, leading them to their first-ever NWSL Playoffs. Since he joined Gotham FC in November 2022, Amorós and his team won six games, had three draws and lost only twice. This helped Gotham FC snatch the top spot of the regular season so far, with one point ahead of Portland Thorns, OL Reign, San Diego Wave and Washington Spirit.
In this tactical analysis scout report, we will be exploring how Gotham FC are looking tactically under the management of Amorós, what did they change from last season, and how to maintain this excellent run of form to keep on improving their performances as well. The analysis will therefore study the improvements and changes carried out by Amorós in terms of formations, line-ups and tactics.
Compared to 2022, Amorós succeeded in finding the best shape for his team and the most adequate formation to his players’ abilities and especially to the roles they can interpret on the pitch. Instead of their previous 4-2-3-1 formation used by Hue Menzies, Amorós switched to the 4-1-4-1 and tried to have more consistency using this same formation for all of the games he was in charge of Gotham FC so far.
The results were overall very positive since he won six games and lost only twice and this took place mainly because the players had clear ideas and played with more realism than before. In addition, the usage of key players in their most adequate positions helped the team perform better, mainly in the attacking phase. The arrival and rapid integration of an experienced player like Lynn Williams helped Gotham FC a lot inside the final third since Amorós played her as a striker, as a left winger and as a right winger when needed.
This variety of positions helps the team have variable references for opponents who try to study their plans and such changes don’t only concern Williams but also Bruninha who is starting to become a key element within the team. Amorós helped the Brazilian player improve and gave her the confidence needed to play well in the defensive and especially the attacking phase, knowing that she can play as a right-back, left-back and as a right-winger as well.
The picture below shows that Gotham FC became more dangerous and effective in terms of goalscoring thanks to their new wingers and full-backs. And in other games, we saw them (Bruninha, Williams and Jenna Nighswonger as well) occupying different positions and still being impactful. This proves that Amorós dealt very well with the new signings and knows exactly in which positions he needs to employ them, in relation to the opponents and with the type of game he needs to play.
The best ideas that Amorós found in terms of attacking positions is the reliance on either Delanie Sheehan or Lynn Williams as a striker while Taylor Smith, Williams, Nighswonger, Yazmeen Ryan or Ifeoma Onumonu play as wingers with alterations in positions. In midfield, the team relies on Kristie Mewis and the veteran McCall Zerboni as central midfielders, with Sinead Farrelly and Nealy Martin as regular alternatives. And at the same time, Martin, and especially Alexandra Long, often hold the defensive midfielder role.
This combination between experience and talent guarantees quality playmaking and a high rate of chance creation. In fact, Gotham FC are actually the team that has one of the best passing accuracy averages in NWSL with 76.8% overall and 64.9% in terms of accurate forward passes per match. This proves the team’s significant improvement in terms of playmaking.
Gotham FC’s attacking strength was obvious since the start of the 2023 NWSL season mainly thanks to Williams’ goalscoring skills and the team’s quick and accurate passing in the final third. Players like Margaret Purce, Ryan, and Mewis always look for Williams trying to serve her at an adequate time while being aware of her goalscoring abilities.
The following assist from Mewis to Williams clearly highlights this reliance on the latter’s finishing, which proved fruitful since Williams was the player who scored Gotham FC’s first four goals of the season (without counting penalties).
The team relies a lot on penetrations from the wings since most wingers in the team have some good dribbling skills and pacy accelerations. The following goal took place thanks to Ryan’s acceleration on the right wing and her ability to get past her direct marker prior to providing an assist for Williams, knowing that Ryan was playing as a central midfielder and not as a winger in this match. Such freedom in movements given to midfielders helps Gotham FC create more chances and serve strikers in a more consistent way mainly through penetrations and passes.
Moreover, the continuous change of roles during games and the contribution of midfielders in the attacking phase represents an impactful change compared to last season knowing that these midfielders are often advancing towards the box, providing key passes and penetrating from the wings while wingers join the box in order to create numerical superiority in that area and benefit from the midfielders’ contribution.
Another aspect that Amorós improved within the team is the reliance on short and quick key passes inside the final third and even inside the box. This was only achievable by instructing the players to be present in the final third so often and with more numbers.
The next example of Gotham FC’s goal against OL Reign showcases the importance of having multiple players inside or near the box. Apart from Sheehan who is occupying her natural spot and Smith who is joining the box and asking for the ball, we see Mewis acting like an advanced playmaker and attracting a defender while Farrelly dribbles past her marker and serves Sheehan who gives an intelligent first-time assist to Smith. The chemistry between these players has been improving match by match and playing with one or two touches so often has been helping them break opposing defences like they did in this match against a tough, direct opponent.
With an average of 1.72 goals conceded per match, 47% shots against on target and 62.5% defensive duels won, Gotham FC are actually one of the best teams in terms of defensive resistance and in terms of the number of conceded goals overall. They have been performing in a solid way since the start of the season and didn’t really concede many goals per match (with the exception of two 2-0 losses against OL Reign and KC Current). This means that Gotham FC are really defending well as a unit and more importantly, Abby Smith has been a great goalkeeper for the team this season with an average of 1.38 conceded goals per match for an average of 5.01 shots against per 90.
Moreover, the defensive compactness and determination in intercepting passes and especially in blocking shots have been helping the team in conceding less and alleviating the danger of extremely dangerous players like Trinity Rodman for instance.
Martin was able to block Rodman’s shot here following the latter’s cut inside. And what was even more impressive is that Martin was not the player supposed to mark Rodman given that Martin was the defensive midfielder, yet she was extremely attentive, disturbed Rodman, obliged her to cut inside and blocked her shooting attempt at the last second. This can only prove that the team defends with conviction and not by obligation and that it is very important for them to not concede goals.
Another big improvement for Gotham FC was making sure to mark tightly when facing dangerous wingers and this was done by instructing a midfielder to always provide back-up when full-backs are in one vs one situations. This solution proved successful as it helped the team’s defence concede fewer chances and avoid the danger of some key players as they did with Kerolin of North Carolina Courage in the following image.
How to keep this excellent run of form going?
Alternating their attacking plays and trying to use crosses a bit more often would be very useful for the team’s attacking phase since they often rely solely on quick passes and cutting inside. Training on different variations and on dealing with crosses would help the team a lot in this regard since some opponents will be attentive to attacks through short passes and crosses will be needed to break their defences.
From a defensive perspective, a bit more attention when marking opponents during counterattacks will be needed since the team’s defence sometimes fail to follow up the speed of their opponents’ counter-attacks and fall into the trap of following the passes and not marking the players, as they did in this goal action against OL Reign when they left two attacking players relatively unmarked and were unable to stop OL Reign from scoring.
Gotham FC have made a significant overall improvement compared to the previous two seasons and that is obvious to everyone, especially when considering the actual standings of the NWSL. Now, what is needed is to keep their good run of form going and to know how to diversify their attacking plans without losing their identity and without losing their defensive compactness.
If Gotham FC keeps playing with the same determination and concentration, they will most likely have a very positive season and reach an advanced stage during the playoffs too.