After last season’s last-place finish, it was clear that NJ/NY Gotham FC were in need of a refresh, and so they quickly embarked on one. The club hired Juan Carlos Amaros following his brief but encouraging stint with the Houston Dash and enlisted a handful of new talent, most notably Lynn Williams in a surprise move on the day of the NWSL Draft.
The ambitious plan paid off. Gotham return to the postseason for the first time in two years off the back of Amaros’ quick pressing style that has allowed the team’s attackers to flourish at times, including Williams and Midge Purce. Williams leads the team with seven goals after a quick adjustment to life in New Jersey. They’ll open up their playoff push on Sunday against the North Carolina Courage on the road at 7 p.m. ET live on CBS Sports Network.
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“I know that we played a two-front [with North Carolina Courage] and then coming to Gotham, we obviously play a three-front, which is very similar to the national team so I think that my experience on the national team has translated very well,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “[I’m] learning the position better, learning the system better.”
Williams’ ability to settle in has been matched by her teammates’ level of comfort with Amaros, who she said was quickly able to get his squad to buy into his vision.
“I think he’s come into the team and has done a great job of just being able to see what everybody’s individual talents are and then making the best game plan for those talents, not trying to force us into a system but allowing the system to be free-flowing for our skillsets, which has been amazing, just having some autonomy as a player,” she said.
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It’s a plan that has allowed Gotham to see success in the early part of their rebuild, but the question facing the lowest-seeded team in the playoffs is: How far can they actually go?
Despite their success, Gotham showed signs of being an unfinished product at times this season. They have the fewest regular season wins of any of this year’s NWSL playoff teams and scored fewer goals than any other team in the field. They have picked up only win in their last five games.
Williams is cognizant of the team’s room for improvement ahead of their quarterfinal matchup against the North Carolina Courage and thinks Gotham’s 2-2 draw against the Kansas City Current on Decision Day could provide some clues.
“North Carolina, they’re a possession team but they’re also a team that can hit you on transition and obviously in the Kansas City game, we got scored on kind of a transitional play as well,” she said. “So just making sure that as a unit, as a group, we’re shifting together, defending well together and just staying organized and disciplined, I think, would be the key moment and then when we get opportunities, making sure that we take them.”
That said, expect Gotham to stick to their style of play and aim to control the game.
“I think sometimes you go into playoffs and you start thinking, ‘We gotta change all these things,'” the forward said. “No. We need to just continue to do what has gotten us to this moment and just elevate it, so [the aim is] just honing in [on] what makes us great and just going over the small details.”
The belief stems from Amaros’ one quality that Williams describes as “unique” — the supportive environment he has created for his players.
“He has a very unique way of being able to tell you when it needs to be better but praising you when you’ve done such a great job and making you feel like you want to improve,” she said. “You want to go to training, you want to be a part of this environment — not just him but the whole coaching staff. Just the energy around the team has been amazing.”
There’s also that other notable intangible about the playoffs that Gotham are embracing — the unpredictability factor that goes up a notch in the NWSL, especially after an incredibly competitive regular season in which eight teams competed for four postseason berths on the final day.
“The NWSL is wild, especially this year,” Williams said. “I think that’s exactly what you want to see is just parity and just intense, exciting games … Everybody should be very excited,” she added before advising to “put all your money on Gotham.”