“A team lacking both joy and identity”: Why NJ/NY Gotham have been the NWSL’s strugglers in 2022 – tactical analysis
Fans of the NWSL will always use the same phrases to describe each season, with “full of drama”, “exciting” and “competitive” usually among them. 2022 has been no different, with the additions of San Diego Wave and Angel City (based in San Diego and Los Angeles respectively) bringing new challenges and ensuring that every team has had to work incredibly hard to secure every point possible.
However, whilst the playoff fight has attracted a great deal of attention, it has also been worth keeping an eye on the foot of the table, with NJ/NY Gotham not expected by many to struggle and yet spending the majority of the campaign propping up the rest of the league.
The club, who finished fifth last season, have only managed to win four of their 17 matches in 2022, whilst they have found the net on just 13 occasions (the lowest total in the league) and conceded 36 times (the highest total in the league). In fact, their last victory came on 8 July, away at Racing Louisville, and their disappointing season led to the departure of head coach Scott Parkinson on 11 August after less than a year in the post. In the words of one leading NWSL writer, Gotham are “a team lacking in joy and identity”, with many fans questioning what has gone wrong.
This tactical analysis will look to answer that question, examining Gotham’s performances throughout the season and identifying their problems at both ends of the pitch. The scout report will also show the improvements made since former Jamaica coach Hue Menzies was appointed to lead the team on an interim basis, which have given fans some hope that their team can start to claw their way back and rediscover their form ahead of the 2023 campaign.
When it comes to NJ/NY Gotham’s attacking problems, arguably the main thing to focus on is their tactics, as they have been let down on a number of occasions by their in-game strategies and have made it too easy for their opponents to limit their threat. To succeed in a league like the NWSL, teams need to have different ways of playing and be able to adapt when things aren’t going their way, which is where Gotham have been found wanting at times.
The match against Chicago Red Stars, which proved to be Scott Parkinson’s final one in charge, was where this issue was highlighted the most, with Chicago knowing how Gotham would approach the game and also recognising how they could limit their opponents’ effectiveness, with 2-v-1 situations common as they closed the ball down and prevented crosses being made. In this case, Caprice Dydasco, who has recently moved to high-flying Houston Dash, has passed to Midge Purce, but Rachel Hill and Danielle Colaprico have got tight to her and prevented the ball from being transferred into the middle.
It was quite clever how Chicago went about this without Gotham realising because they made it look as if they wanted to press the ball every time they came towards the wings, with Hill here initially running towards Dydasco. However, this was only a ploy, because the Red Stars knew that the pass into Purce would be made, so Hill stayed back from Dydasco and ensured that she could change direction as soon as the ball moved towards Purce, creating the 2-v-1 with Colaprico, and the fact that this happened time and time again showed how Gotham kept playing into their opponents’ hands whenever they got into these areas.
The fact that they persevered with these tactics despite them clearly not working also demonstrated that they did not have a backup plan, and that is something that has been noticeable in other games this season too, so is one key reason that they have struggled near the bottom of the league.
When they have had chances to score, Gotham have at times looked imbalanced, with this situation showing Taylor Smith, who joined from North Carolina Courage in June, leading a counterattack but not having the necessary support from her teammates. As a result, it is easy for Louisville to surround her, with three players getting tight here as they look to prevent her run from turning into a goal.
The reason that she has been left on her own here is because those behind her have not been as quick during the transition, meaning that they have been left behind. It is unclear if this is down to a lack of desire or if those players just don’t have the same pace as Smith, but she is the type of player who is at her best when she has teammates around her, so situations like this are not where she is most comfortable.
In fact, it was only when Cameron Tucker came on late in the match that Gotham started to really look dangerous, with Smith netting the winner only a few seconds after her introduction and once space had opened up, so that shows how another reason for Gotham’s struggles is that they haven’t had the right players working together at times, preventing them from fulfilling their attacking potential.
When they have got players working together in the final third, a lack of decisiveness has often let Gotham down. In this case, the ball has gone loose after a pass from Angel City defender Megan Reid into the middle, with former Chelsea Women and Bayern Munich Frauen full-back Ali Riley unable to regain control before Purce had put her foot in to send the ball towards the Angel City goal area.
However, whilst the pass from Purce into Kristie Mewis (sister of former Manchester City Women player Sam) was good, the next phase from the former Houston Dash midfielder was poor, as she took too many touches on the ball and then overhit the pass when she did send it back to Purce, forcing her teammate to go too wide and ending her opportunity to score.
Given that Gotham had a 2-v-1 advantage against Canada defender Vanessa Gilles here, with New Zealand captain Riley out of the game, they had to do better, and this lack of precision and quality, when they have been in these situations, is a primary reason for just 32.5% of their shots being on target in 2022. Therefore, if they want to be a more effective attacking side, they need to regain their composure in crucial moments and take these chances, because not doing so has been a big factor in them sitting at the bottom of the league.
Defensively, Gotham’s major problem has been a lack of communication and teamwork, which means that they have often left spaces wide open and invited pressure from opponents. They have also been guilty of making some poor individual errors too, which need to be eradicated if they are to have any hope of climbing away from the foot of the table before the regular season comes to an end.
Some of their mistakes have been frustratingly simple, which must have been hard to witness at times. In this case, Portland Thorns have moved up the field and now have possession on the far side of the pitch, with Morgan Weaver looking for an option in the middle to move the ball to. Gotham’s setup is initially good here, with captain McCall Zerboni marking Marissa Everett, in the blue square, whilst there are three defenders in the box to try and prevent either Yazmeen Ryan or Hina Sugita from having an open shot at goal if the ball comes their way.
However, once Weaver makes her pass, Zerboni loses her concentration and allows Everett to move into the space ahead of her, as the black arrow shows, with the Portland forward controlling the ball and finding the back of the net. The simple fact is that this goal could have been avoided if Zerboni had stayed with Everett and not let her run unmarked towards the goal area, and that is the key point – these are basic mistakes that Gotham need to cut out because they have been the source of their undoing on so many occasions.
It is not only Zerboni who is making these mistakes, but this situation is a good example of what has been going wrong at the back for Gotham and how they can work on being harder to score against.
Gotham have also looked to play out from the back when they can, with Imani Dorsey in possession on the nearside of the pitch here and having made her way up to the halfway line. Everett is once again causing problems and has come to close her down, with Dorsey playing a no-look pass towards Delanie Sheehan, in the yellow circle, hoping that this will catch Everett out and give her teammate space to keep the ball moving forwards. However, the pass lacked accuracy and Sheehan was forced to readjust her positioning, which enabled Everett to win possession for the home side.
It might seem that this is just one loose pass and something that can be fixed, and it absolutely can be, but the fact that Portland’s Olivia Moultrie, one of the game’s up-and-coming stars, found the back of the net from long-range only a few moves after Everett had won the ball here shows how, once again, Gotham’s mistakes cost them. Therefore, if they want to be harder to beat during the remainder of the campaign, they need to be better in possession and not make it so easy for opponents to create goalscoring opportunities against them.
It is a common sight to see Dorsey making runs up the field when playing at left-back this season, and it is something that has caught Gotham out on a number of occasions. In this case, she has looked to close down San Diego’s Sweden forward Sofia Jakobsson, but this leaves a large gap open between her and Cameroon defender Estelle Johnson, as illustrated by the blue line. Therefore, once Taryn Torres, in the red circle, loses possession to Wave midfielder Taylor Kornieck, Dorsey’s poor positioning is instantly exposed as Kornieck can send the ball through the gap and into the path of the league’s current top scorer, Alex Morgan, who finds the back of the net.
Whilst this was another well-constructed attacking move by San Diego, for which they deserve praise, it was also another situation where Gotham created their own problems and needed to be more organised at the back, working together to prevent the spaces opening up for the Wave to exploit, and it is situations like this that make it easy to see why they have shipped the most goals in the league in 2022.
Reasons to be hopeful
However, whilst this analysis has so far been very critical of NJ/NY Gotham’s performances in 2022, there have been some signs of improvement since Hue Menzies took over, with fans able to hope for better times as the regular season draws to a close. Ultimately, Gotham will not make a second consecutive appearance in the playoffs, but they still have something to aim for, which is to not finish bottom, and that might not be as hard as it first sounds.
What Menzies has done is to continue encouraging his players to stay wide and use the wings in order to build their attacks, but they now aren’t sending crosses in from those areas. Instead, they simply pass out to the wings and try to force gaps to open up in the middle, which is what Ali Krieger is doing here by sending the ball towards Nahomi Kawasumi.
The result of this is that the opposition now can’t come out to close the ball down in the same way as Chicago did in the first section of this analysis, because that would give Krieger the opportunity to send the ball into the spaces behind them. On this occasion, Orlando Pride fell into that trap and Gotham were able to use the gaps to progress the ball forwards, so this demonstrates how the tweak in their final third tactics has helped them to pose a bigger threat.
The other aspect of this to mention is that it is not a fixed formation, with different players taking up these wide roles during the game depending on what is going on at different stages of the match. At the moment, it is Kawasumi and Jenna Bike in those positions, but the Japanese forward moved inside the field shortly after this and Taylor Smith went out to take her place on the wing, so there is definitely more cohesion to their play now and players are more aware of what each other is doing and what spaces need filling, which will give fans hope that they can be more competitive during the latter stages of the season.
It was also mentioned earlier that Gotham often had an imbalance in their attack, with some players going forwards and others staying back, and Menzies has rectified this by asking his players to stay higher up the field and work in closer proximity to each other.
In the above image, Purce has been joined by Nigeria striker Ifeoma Onumonu in a front two, with the advantage of having two players up front being that Gotham can press opponents and force mistakes. In this case, their presence meant that Angel City’s Bosnia goalkeeper DiDi Haračić couldn’t play to one of the two defenders nearest her, meaning that she had to attempt a longer pass.
This is where the four players behind come into the equation, as their job here is to win the ball once it travels in their direction and then attack the space in front of them. What is key to their success with this is that only two of the four players run forwards, with one winning the ball and the other offering a passing option, whilst the two who stay back work to give them protection in case of a counterattack. The role of Kristie Mewis on the outside of this four-player line is particularly interesting because having her in this area when she isn’t a winger allows her to get into the half-spaces and affect the game in different ways, which is where she is at her most dangerous.
It is clear that Gotham have been thinking more about their setup since Menzies’ arrival and have been trying to make the most of these offensive opportunities, and they are starting to look like a team who could pose a threat going forwards. Therefore, this is another reason that fans can have hope during the rest of the season.
There have also been some improvements in their own third, with them being more coordinated and working together to prevent teams from scoring against them. Here, Angel City have got into Gotham’s box and are trying to get a shot away at goal, but Simone Charley has been closed down by Estelle Johnson, who has moved across to try and win the ball before the shot can be taken.
This allows the rest of the team to set up behind Johnson, with her central defensive partner, Mandy Freeman, the key player to watch here. As the yellow arrow indicates, she moves across to cover her teammate and ends up as the one who stops a goal being scored, with Johnson overrunning and allowing Charley to cut back inside.
The level of teamwork here was also shown by Dorsey, who had once again got forward but had this time stayed close to playmaker Savannah McCaskill, in the black circle, who has been one of Angel City’s most influential players this season. Once Freeman went across to cover Johnson, McCaskill looked to attack the space left open behind her, but Dorsey tracked her run and stopped Charley from moving the ball into her, playing her part in this chance coming to nothing. Again, this highlights how Gotham have been showing signs of playing more as a team, which when defending will help them to be more robust and not concede as often.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at NWSL strugglers NJ/NY Gotham, who have had a season to forget in 2022. Whether it is down to poor coaching, ineffective tactics or something else, the simple fact is that Gotham have not been performing at the same level this season as they did in 2021 and have at times looked lost, with their sharp decline alarming fans who had hoped that the team would build on the highs of last year.
The recent change of coach has brought some improvement to the team, as has been shown, but there is still a lot that needs to be addressed before they will really be in a position to challenge again. However, if they keep working on improving basic areas of the game, such as keeping the ball, creating attacking opportunities and being difficult to break down, then there is still a chance that they could end their season on a positive note and give themselves something to build on in 2023.