Gotham FC’s win in NWSL season opener proves costly as injuries mount

Gotham FC’s march to its first NWSL championship went through Portland last year, and the retooled local women’s soccer side got its title defense off to a roaring start in that familiar locale.

Gotham knocked out the Thorns in extra time in the semifinals of the NWSL playoffs in October, and it opened the 2024 regular season by grinding out a tight 1-0 victory Sunday at Providence Park in Portland, Ore.

The result also was costly, though, as a Gotham squad already without expected leaders and U.S. National Team staples Rose Lavelle and Lynn Williams due to leg injuries lost starting striker Midge Purce to an apparent left-knee injury just before halftime.

Gotham FC midfielder Delanie Sheehan (17) defends the ball against Portland Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith (9) during the second half at Providence Park. Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Gotham coach Juan Carlos Amorós afterward connected the three injured players to their victory with Team USA in the women’s Gold Cup earlier this month.

“We are paying the consequences of a tournament that shouldn’t have happened,” Amorós said on a postgame Zoom call. “Another player playing in the Gold Cup [right before the start of the season], and 10 days later, she’s injured.

“We’re talking about protecting the players. … But we’re seeing the consequences now.”

Long Island product and USWNT regular Crystal Dunn — who played the past three seasons for the Thorns, including winning a league title in 2022 — started up top and logged 66 minutes in her regular-season debut for Gotham.

The 31-year-old Dunn had made her initial team appearance off the bench nine days earlier in a 1-0 loss in the Challenge Cup against the San Diego Wave on a goal by Alex Morgan in the 88th minute.

Lavelle (lower leg) and Williams (thigh) were unavailable after also missing the loss to the Wave.

Amorós said he’s uncertain if either or both will be back for Saturday’s game at North Carolina, and he offered no medical update on Purce.

Gotham will play its home opener April 14 against the Kansas City Current at Red Bull Arena.

Gotham FC forward Esther Gonzalez (9) celebrates a goal with teammates during the second half on Sunday. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Portland star and 2023 Golden Boot winner Sophia Smith had two potential goals disallowed for plays deemed offsides, in the third and 60th minutes.

Gotham goalkeeper Cassie Miller (six saves) also made a close-range stop in the early going to thwart the 23-year-old Smith, who had slid behind left back Kelley O’Hara.

Purce, the MVP of the championship game last fall, was temporarily removed in the 13th minute with a left-knee issue following a collision with American midfielder Sam Coffey, but she returned to the pitch a few minutes later.

Almost immediately, Purce was taken down again, earning Portland’s Reyna Reyes a yellow-card booking.

Purce came off again during stoppage time of a scoreless first half following an awkward fall along the sideline.

Gotham FC forward Crystal Dunn (19) and Portland Thorns FC midfielder Olivia Moultrie (13) battle for the ball during the first half on Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

This time she was replaced by Yazmeen Ryan, and it was Ryan setting up international star Esther González — who’d buried the game-winner against Seattle last November to lift Gotham to the league title — with a deft cross from the right side for the game’s lone goal.

“The players and staff, we wanted to win after [the Purce injury] happened,” Amorós said. “The way we battled and fought tonight is a credit to this group of players.

“Through all the adversity … to come out of here with three points was outstanding.”

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