|photo by Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY sports
by Anthony J. Merced
Gotham FC have a chance to go to their first NWSL final in team history but in their way are the reigning champions Portland Thorns. Sunday's game will prove to be one of the biggest challenges for the team, including their 22 year-old wing back Jenna Nighswonger who expressed her excitement ahead of the game.
"I think we're all just really excited," said Nighswonger to the media. "I think we're all feeling pretty confident in each other, ourselves and what the coaching staff has laid out for us. Just really excited to play the game."
And there is good reason to be excited. Gotham went on the road in their first playoff game of the season, defeating third place North Carolina Courage 2-0 on the road to make a statement. A jammed league table meant that Gotham, a team that could have finished as high as third, was the last place team in playoff qualification. However, it didn't stop them from executing a game plan that has seen them go from last place in 2022 to contender just one year later.
Nighswonger is a major part of that turnaround. Originally a forward, she has transitioned into the backline well and become one of head coach Juan Carlos Amoros' most trusted players. In 2023 she made 21 appearances with 18 of them being starts. Over that time she notched three goals for the club.
"I like to play my position more attacking," said Nighswonger about whether that previous forward experience gives her an edge. "I do see myself as more of an attacking mid-player but I am now a leftback. I think just taking what I used to do in the attack, using my vision, to play a new position. We talk a lot about how it's just a role on the field. We try to do a lot of different rotations and everything. So, I don't really feel like I am just a left back. I like to think sometimes I can play the 10 or the 11. I think that's definitely been helpful."
She will have the chance to put a season of growth to work on Sunday against a Portland team that is looking to repeat as NWSL champions. However, Gotham is a team in the rise and Nighswonger, along with a veteran core, is hoping to flip the script on an all west coast final.