2024 S-2 Briefing: NY/NJ Gotham

Having looked back at last season’s Thorns, now we look ahead to the opponents that this season’s Thorns will have to face in their campaign to return to the top step of the NWSL.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the “S-2” is the portion of a U.S. Army unit’s staff that concentrates on scoping out potential enemies. Back in the day when my battalion would go on the highest alert condition we’d get an “S-2 Briefing” where the intel weenies would lay out who and where we were likely to end up getting shot at.

That’s what this is; a look at the folks who’ll be shooting at our goal this coming year.

When we did this before the 2023 season we looked at them in order the Thorns last saw them. So we started with the semifinal opponent (Kansas City), proceeded to the semifinalist (San Diego) then went down the table in order of finish.

This time I’m just going straight down the table, but I’ll begin with the returning champions, the-team-formerly-known-as-Sky-Blue, now “NY/NJ Gotham”.

We did a long look at the club histories last season, so rather than run that pony again I’ll just link to the 2023 post and note what’s changed since that time. Then we’ll look at what seems likely from them this year.


NY/NY Gotham FC

What’s changed since 2022?
Holy hell, what hasn’t?

Here’s the 2023 post.

This is how I finished up then:

“Summing Up

Just dire. Hard to say whether this outfit can get significantly better since it would be damn difficult for them to get worse, well…maybe they’ll finish 11th or something next year. Still bad, but maybe a trifle less-bad.


Possibly the Spoon again. I don’t see them getting anywhere close to the red line unless the entire table blows up or lightning strikes or the dead rise from their graves, real wrath-of-God stuff. Might sneak into 10th or somewhere a skosh higher if a couple of the other bottom feeders have some back luck, but other than that? Nope.

Will they be dangerous? It’d take damn near a miracle, or Purce, Onumonu, Ryan, Long, and half the rest of the roster having career years.

Can the Thorns beat them? Well, as the final match last regular season shows, we can drop points to damn near anyone. But it’s gonna take a LOT of trying. So, yes, nine out of ten times these poor schmoes will be dead meat in front of Portland.”

Okay, well, at least when I’m wrong I’m reeeeeally wrong.

Instead of tanking in 2023 the club that was the 2022 Wooden Spoon beat Seattle in the Final to become the champions, along the way whipping Carolina in the quarterfinal and the 2022 champs (us, fuckadoo…) in the semifinal.

The club that for years carried the ridiculous WPS star over the Sky Blue crest now has a legitimate NWSL star for their new badge, in the process earning their head coach Manager of the Year honor, and well deserved it was.

Then, as we’ll discuss, the club went on an offseason roster rampage.

2023 Owners: The Murphys
Changes since 2023:

Tammy Murphy is still running the outfit and has continued the work she began before last season to clean up and upgrade the organization.

2023 Head Coach: Juan Carlos Amorós
Changes since 2023: Well, dude won the league, so, yeah, that.

Last time I said “He can hardly do worse than his predecessors.

Now he’s going to have to repeat the best performance in the league. First World problems, tho, eh?

In 2023, 6th of 12, 8-7-7, 31 points (level with ACFC and Orlando) and slipped into the bottom of the playoffs purely by goal difference.

Season summary: Just good enough. Here’s the matchday results and table position from the Wikipedia entry:

Not sure what happened there between Matchdays 15 and 21, but the results suggest that Gotham probably dropped to 4th or 5th by Matchday 19. The club coasted into the playoffs riding their 5-3-3 first half; after midseason the Joisey Goils’ 3-4-4 came close to ending their season early.

Worth noting that – as we’ll discuss – Gotham had scoring issues. They got blanked nine times, the most clean-sheets-against in the league; the bottom two clubs gave up only ten shoutouts between them.

Then the Gothamites reminded us of the capricious nature of a playoff league:

Fair enough; given that we haven’t nicked a Shield and a star in the same season we can’t really throw stones.

The bottom line is that Gotham did what it took to win it all, so fair play to them.

Outstanding players: in 2022 the standout Gotham player was Midge Purce. Then in the offseason the club dealt with The Damned Courage for Lynn Williams. I wrote:

“She’s not a future for Gotham – her career will only continue to slide as she ages out – but she knows how to score, and that was a massive problem for Gotham last season. Like the payday loan commercial says, “If you have a shit offense and you need goals now/Call Lynn Williams, 877-goals-now!”

If she’s healthy and on form, Williams should get Gotham goals.”

She did.

Williams nicked seven of the Batwomen’s regular-plus-post-season total of 30 goals; six in the regular season including a PK and one in the Final.

Purce added four (two PKs), and Nighswonger chipped in three including a PK. Four more players had two each, three had one.

Which brings up the question of…

How Did Gotham Score?

Well, they didn’t, not much.

Gotham’s 25 regular season GF is the second lowest in the league, tied with ninth-place Racing Louisville and ahead only of 10th-place Houston, the Club Without Goals, whose 18 GF was worst of all.

Here’s how Gotham scored; green boxes are goals scored from the run of play, yellow from the penalty spot, blue from setpieces.

I haven’t begun to run this for the other clubs yet, but I’m gonna bet that two setpiece goals are the fewest of any club for 2023. Gotham didn’t have a deadball specialist (the free kick was a one-off the boot of Allie Long, who scored only one other goal all season) or an effective penalty-area-target.

Williams was the only Gotham attacker to make a postseason XI. Purce and Yazmeen Ryan were among the “shots created” leaders on offense, along with midfielders Kristie Mewis and Delenie Sheehan. Coming up from the backline Bruninha and Nighswonger also created attacking opportunities

Esther Gonzalez was a valuable attacking addition but arrived only at the end of the season.

So Gotham won with rock-solid defense, then?


In back Gotham was better than 2022; then they were the worst defense in the league; 46GA, beating the other dumpster fire (Orlando) by a single concession.

The Goths split the keeping that season between Shelly Betos and Ashlyn Harris and while neither was outstanding their backlines didn’t help, especially Harris; her xG-against was among the worst of any playoff keeper:

KeeperxG againstGAGamesxGa/GMDDiff

Last season Gotham was kind of a reverse-mirror of 2022.

Like ’22, an injury to their starting keeper forced the backup into the XI. But unlike ’22, the keepers were generally better than expected:

KeeperPSxG againstGAGamesPSxGa/GMDDiff
Smith, A23.215151.54-0.54

Gotham’s backline was pretty porous; their 31/7 post-shot xG against was the worst in the league outside the woeful Red Stars, so the work Smith and Haught did was critical. Smith, in particular, faced more dangerous shots, and prevented more of them from becoming goals, than any other keeper in the league.

Oddly, Gotham and its keepers did do well keeping clean sheets in general – eight, six in the regular season, plus both quarter- and semifinal.

But their scoring issues helped negate that advantage; Gotham picked up only 12 points from those six regular season sheets, pulling scoreless draws against Orlando, Angel City, and Racing.

Gotham’s backline relied heavily on Ali Krieger; Krieger led the team with interceptions (29) as well as in duel percentage won. Nighswonger was the club leader in tackles won and duels attampted. Both made postseason XIs.

Other defensive standouts included Bruninha, Long and Nealy Martin in midfield, and Kristen Edmonds.

How Did They Look?

This was the opening day win over Angel City away:

Amoros liked this 4-1-4-1; he used it here and another three times in the regular season, all but one away, and went 2-1-1 with it.

Pretty typical; Williams the lone striker and Long sitting at the #6, with Purce and Bruninha on the wings, Mewis and Ryan as the #8s.

I think of this as a “defensive” formation, but with Williams, Purce, Ryan, and Mewis up there’s a lot of attack there.

The most typical formation Amoros ran his squad out was the 4-3-3. Here it is against Washington in May:

…and then against the Damned in September:

You’ll note: same formation, really different XIs.

Williams moves from CF to LW, Iffy Onumonu where Ryan was at RW, Farelly for Mewis, Krieger swaps right to left, Lopez for Jean, Only the fullbacks and the Martin-Sheehan midfield pairing don’t change.

Here’s the playoffs; the return of the 4-1-4-1 against us in the semi:

Williams back up top, Purce-Sheehan-Esther-Ryan, Nealy Martin at the #6, and the usual backline. Worked a treat, goddammit.

It’s worth noting that the 4-3-3 was Gotham’s most used formation but not especially the most effective. That was this 4-1-4-1. Here’s the rundown of the four sets Amoros used in 2023:

FormationMatches (occurance)WLD
4-3-314 (13 season, QF)635
4-1-4-16 (4 season, SF, F)411

The 4-1-4-1 beat us, Seattle, Chicago, and ACFC. Houston ground out a draw, and only Stoney’s San Diego beat it.

Worth noting that one of the 4-3-3 wins was over our Replacements in July.

It’s probably not too valuable to dissect Gotham’s 2023, because…

Changes for 2024

After the big shakeup in the 22-23 offseason Gotham – the defending champions, remember – went wild again this past offseason. Let’s start from the back and work forward

Abby Smith and Shelly Betos are still there. Mandy Haught was dealt to Utah for protection and Cassie Miller signed from Kansas City.

Krieger retired after ’23. Nighswonger and Bruninha remain at fullback, but the starting centerbacks are probably returnee Maitane López Millán and Tierna Davidson, signed as a free agent off Chicago.

Other defenders in camp include Kristen Edmonds, Mandy Freeman, Sam Hiatt (acquired from Seattle), Kelley O’Hara, Taryn Torres, and draftee Maycee Bell.

Midfielders include returnees Martin, Sheehan, Ryan, McCall Zerboni and Sinead Farelly. Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett were signed as free agents from Seattle.

As of this writing Mana Shim and Allie Long are still unsigned free agents.

Up top Esther, Purce, Stengal, and Williams all return. Crystal Dunn was signed as a free agent from Portland, and Ella Stevens from Chicago.

How they’ll look next year?

How’s this all gonna run out in March? Here’s Henderson’s thought:

That looks reasonable to me.

And, don’t forget, you’ve still got Stengal, Ryan, and Stevens in reserve up top, Martin, Farelly, Zerboni, and Sheehan in midfield (and, possibly Long), with Edmonds, Freeman, Hiatt, and KOH on the bench for the backline.

I’m not sure what all this will do once it gets going, but on paper?

It looks fucking terrifying.

Summing Up

This gang snuck into the playoffs by a hair and went wild for three games.

A club that had run the table, the way Carolina did in the late Teens? You could see how they’d be fine just fiddling with the margins. Gotham 1) realized how barely they got in and 2) went out and brought in a truckload of new talent.

That’s pretty damn brilliant.


Possibly a second consecutive star. Playoffs seem almost a lock, with real chances of the Shield. This squad is loaded, and their gaffer showed he can manage. Of course anything can happen; it’s the NWSL. But I wouldn’t bet against this group for any possibility.

Will they be dangerous? Like a rabid hyena.

Can the Thorns beat them? In 2023 – discounting the replacements – we did, once. The semifinal was a loss but a damn close one.

But then Gotham went on a buying spree and we’ve…added another Canadian. A pretty good one, but, still…

Gotham has won that arms race so far, and I’m not going to bet we have the weapons to beat them consistently in 2024 unless that changes between now and October.

Next up: San Diego

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

7 thoughts on “2024 S-2 Briefing: NY/NJ Gotham

  1. I always wonder when you are that loaded on the bench does it create some level of dysfunction. I take it every time, but Ryan not on the field makes me wonder if they acquired one too many players

    1. That’s where the coaching comes in.

      As big a shit as he is, Paul Riley was a dark genius at welding his squads together, at integrating the reserves and starters together in an “us against them” mindset. Didn;t work here in 2014, mind you, because he had a bunch of strong-minded veterans who also hated his obsession with conditioning…but still.

      My understanding is that Amoros is, like Norris, well-liked by his squad. If he can use that to pull them together my guess is they’ll be fine in the short term.

      Long term? I think you’re right; players who know they could be starting elsewhere and commanding starters’ wages will get restless. But I’m not sure that’ll be this year.

  2. One of my hopes as a Thorns fan is that Gotham’s ages catches up to them. They have amazing talent but they have a lot of players at or just north of 30. Not that we would see a huge decline but it’s certainly when things usually start slowing down. Mix that with the longest most travel heavy NWSL schedule and a lot of players pulling international duty as well… Could be harder on them than a team of 26 year olds. Certainly wish them good health but wouldn’t mind seeing them fade down the stretch.

    1. That’s definitely a possibility. The knock on the Williams deal was her age, and she’s another year along, while we’ve gotten younger. Hopefully that will be a factor around playoff time…

  3. I wish we could get Yael Averbuch, Gotham’s GM. Seems like she’s doing a much better job than KK, who seems unduly fixated on Canadians and just hasn’t done that much period. The Thorns need a GM who’s better than merely average.

    And yeah, Gotham look really scary this year. I suspect their defense will be significantly better than last year because Amoros will have had another year to work on it, and also because they have so many good players period. Hopefully your prediction about them this year will be as wrong (in the other direction) as it was last year!

    P.S. I don’t understand the “how did Gotham score” grid. It’s a 5×6 grid, mostly light green with a row of PKs showing near the bottom, plus one FK and one CK. Can you explain?

    1. Never mind about the grid, I figured it out. I had thought, based on nothing at all, that the boxes were ordered chronologically and somehow showed what happened game-by-game. But it’s got nothing to do with games, it’s just all the goals, ordered by run-of-play goals (the blank green squares) first, then the other types of goals as labeled. And the columns don’t mean anything, it’s just a single linear sequence that wraps to the next line every five goals. Got it.

      1. Yep; it’s just aggregated by type; run-of-play, penalties, corners, free kicks, own goals.

        I did actually have to run through each team’s match reports to find out the scoring methods, so I DO have the goals sorted by match and type. But I found the chronological order fairly useless. Most goals depended more on individuals than opponent or game state.


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