Gotham FC might have last kicked a soccer ball on November 7, but news from the team has certainly not slowed down.
With two new expansion teams coming into the league, Gotham’s front office and coaching staff hunkered down at the end of the NWSL season to figure out their next steps. According to head coach Scott Parkinson, the team had a plan going into the off-season, particularly with the college draft, and they were able to execute that plan.
Welcoming the New Additions
The New Jersey/New York team was looking for three positional players in the college draft: a goalkeeper, a box-to-box midfielder, and a left-sided center back - and they got all three with Hensley Hancuff, Raleigh Loughman, and Kelly Ann Livingstone.
Gotham FC took a peculiar approach to the draft, trading away their only first-round draft pick to OL Reign for $40,000 in allocation money and their natural first-round draft pick for 2023. “A lot of people came for our 8th pick,” Scott Parkinson told Jersey Sporting News. The club decided that with the signing of Cameron Tucker out of BYU and the recently announced signing Taryn Torres out of UVA, they could forgo this first-round pick and use an extra pick next year plus allocation money to “invest forward.”
Surprisingly, Raleigh Loughman was still available in the fourth round. “We were really going to pick Loughman with our number 8 pick,” Parkinson explained. “But we got her in the fourth round.” Parkinson has spoken with Loughman, who as fate would have it, was on vacation in New York City during Draft Day.
A Player Focused Off-Season
Gotham FC, like most other teams in the league, held their cards close to their chest during the trade window. As information was released to the public, fans wondered how the 2022 roster would shake out. Two big moves that raised initial questions were the departures of their starting goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan to San Diego Wave FC, and the backup keeper DiDi Haracic to Angel City FC.
General Manager Yael Averbuch West has stressed in public comments how important it is to accommodate the players when making moves for the club, and Coach Parkinson agrees. “You have to make these decisions based on what’s best for the player and what’s best for the club at the same time,” Parkinson said. “It’s getting the players where they want to go, but also getting compensation coming back to the club - which can be challenging.” He stressed that the club did not necessarily want anyone to leave, but everyone was accommodated.
Parkinson explained that he was happy with the team as it was at the end of the season, but other opportunities arose for players. “Yael wants to have a real player focus and help those who want to go elsewhere,” Parkinson said. “Either you work hard to change their minds and make them want to stay, or you get them to where they want to go, and [Averbuch West] has done amazing with that.”
For Parkinson, the departure of players hurts him as much as it hurts the fans, but he was happy that in getting players where they wanted to go, the club was able to get protection from the expansion draft and compile enough allocation money to go after USWNT midfielder Kristie Mewis. “It’s sad to see them leave, but you move on - everyone’s happy,” Parkinson said. “The players coming in to take over seem just as happy, so all in all, the ecosystem is working quite well.”
Big Stars, Big City
Even with the departure of the two top shot savers in the league, Gotham FC had something else up their goalkeeping sleeve - two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Harris signed with Gotham FC from the Orlando Pride along with two-time FIFA World Cup-winning defender Ali Krieger, who also happens to be her wife. The addition of these two big stars to the roster is certain to bring in new fans to the fold, and help the team fill more seats in Red Bull Arena.
If you were to forget who the players are, and you forget what formation we're in, there's just something about the team and the way they're trying to play that makes you feel like you're watching a Gotham team.
When the club knew that Kailen Sheridan wanted to depart for another opportunity, Gotham was ready to put but DiDi Haracic into that starting spot. “We had already said no to four clubs that came after [Haracic],” Parkinson recalled. “But when the opportunity of Ashlyn Harris came up, we talked to [Haracic] about what she wanted to do." Parkinson believes that Haricic deserves to be a starter in the league, and so the club worked to make sure they got her to a place where she could be that number one.
According to Parkinson, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris had been on Gotham’s radar, and it appeared to him that the pair mutually had Gotham on theirs. It was Gotham that approached Orlando to explore the possibility and, although he did not want to speak on the pair's behalf, he said that they seemed open to moving on from the Florida team. “It all happened pretty quickly,” Parkinson said, describing the process of trading with Orlando. “And it was the steal of the year.” Parkinson met with the two stars when they visited New York City earlier this month and was impressed with their competitive mindset and how much they want to be part of the team. “They’re aligned with who I am,” he said. “They’re two really good professionals who want to win.”
Another exciting yet sensible move made by Gotham in the off-season was the acquisition of USWNT midfielder Kristie Mewis. The Massachusetts native previously played for the Houston Dash, and will now get to play much closer to home. “We wanted Kristie Mewis. She was right up there on our list of attacking midfielders,” Parkinson said. “Actually, she was number one!”
Parkinson was confident they would get that done, but he was blown away by how it happened. The club tried to inquire about her through Houston, but it didn't work out. When they saw that Mewis was left exposed during the expansion draft, they approached San Diego Wave FC to see if they could make a deal. “It was strange how it happened,” Parkinson said. “But deep down, I felt like we were going to get it done one way or another." In fact, Gotham had been after Mewis for a while leading up to the expansion draft. "I’m surprised it didn’t get out beforehand!”
From the conversations he has had with Mewis, Parkinson sees an exceptional player who is excited, hungry to win, and wants to continue to prove herself. “She’s a great footballer, she can run, she's competitive, and she has that East Coast grit and fight,” Parkinson said. "That is the perfect player profile for me."
The 2022 Tactics
With various other departures and loans, many have been speculating what formation Gotham will take in the 2022 season. Parkinson entered the fray as head coach towards the end of the 2021 season and only had time to make small tweaks to the system that was already in place. Now he will have a chance to put his own mark on the team.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I’m probably more principle-based than formation-based,” Parkinson said. “A lot of times this year, we attacked in one formation and defended in another.” Next year, he wants the squad to have the flexibility to mix it up depending on player availability and who their opponents are, but still keep a Gotham identity. "If you were to forget who the players are, and you forget what formation we're in, there's just something about the team and the way they're trying to play that makes you feel like you're watching a Gotham team - that is the goal."
We want to win games now, and develop young players that will win games in the next year, and the years after.
“It’s a risk,” Parkinson explained. “Because it’s much easier to stay with a set formation like a 4-4-2 and be perfect with it.” Instead, he wants to take that risk and lean on their principles of pressing teams high, wining balls back close to their opponent's goal, giving up fewer chances, being rigid without the ball, and being good in transition. “Regardless of shape and formation, we want to be good in those moments.”
Even with all of the additions, there are still a few holes that the club needs to fix before they can confidently take on the 2022 season. One such opening is the role of goalkeeping coach. Earlier this month, the previous goalkeeping coach Daniel Ball took a job with Angel City FC, joining former Gotham head coach Freya Coombe.
The team is also short a third goalkeeper option with Mandy McGlynn signing with Swedish team Piteå IF for 2022. Parkinson and the team are still exploring options to address the goalkeeping shortage as they round out the roster for 2022, and are hopefully closing in on a resolution. “There’s a lot going on in our goalkeeping department,” Parkinson added. “Nothing is confirmed as of yet.”
Focused on Development
In addition to making their draft selections, Gotham FC is also signing their 2021 draft pick Taryn Torres, a midfielder out of UVA. “Torres is an amazingly gifted footballer,” Parkinson said, adding her player profile is very similar to that of Allie Long. “She is comparable to a first-round draft pick, along with Cameron Tucker.” Coach Parkinson stressed that they’re not bringing in young players just to be training players. “We truly believe they are the future, and the future with us,” Parkinson said. “They fit the way we want to play the game, and they fit our player profiles.”
For Parkinson, developing younger players as they transition from college into the pros is something he thinks a lot about. “We know that games, training, and individual development plans are needed,” he explained. “We have some things in place and in the pipeline to create that.”
Finding a way to balance putting together a winning team and the constant focus on preparing for upcoming matches with taking care of the individual players is a top priority for Parkinson and Gotham FC this season. They want assistant coaches to take more leadership in empowering the development of young players and provide an elite performance environment not just for the national team players, but for their draft picks and new signings as well. “It's a challenge," Parkinson said. "It's overwhelming, but we have to do it.”
Because most NWSL teams do not have youth programs attached as they do in other leagues around the world, it can be harder to develop the younger players in the transitional years between college and pro. Parkinson believes that this is the best league in the world, and to stay the best in the world, you have to take care of the individuals. “We want to win games now, and develop young players that will win games in the next year, and the years after,” Parkinson explained. “We don't have the perfect formula yet, but we have a plan, and it's going to take everyone involved to create what we want to create.”
Whatever the case may be in the years to come, Gotham FC is certainly not looking back. With their eyes on the championship next year, the pieces are all falling into place for the New Jersey/New York team.
For more information on Gotham FC, including how to buy season tickets for 2022, visit their website gothamfc.com.