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Gotham veteran: How NWSL team went from ‘a mess’ to a contender

Ifeoma Onumonu has seen the transformation of Gotham FC firsthand. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC could go from worst to first in the NWSL, an astonishing transformation witnessed firsthand by Ifeoma Onumonu.

The 29-year-old forward joined Gotham FC in 2020, and she has played for four different head coaches in her time with the club. Freya Coombe left for Angel City in 2021, then Scott Parkinson was fired following a 4-0-8 (W-D-L) start to the 2022 season. Hue Menzies took over as interim head coach through the end of that season, and Juan Carlos Amorós took the reigns ahead of the 2023.

Under Amorós, the club has gone from a league-worst 4-1-17 record last season to 8-6-6 season. With 30 points, Gotham FC is in third place with two matches left to play, and a chance to surpass the San Diego Wave and Portland Thorns for the NWSL Shield.

“I feel like I’m on a different team every year because every year I’ve been here, it’s been a different coach,” Onumonu said on the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast. “And I think that has been sort of the key is the coaching and the staff in general. I think this is the most staff we’ve ever had. I think obviously the players that we’ve brought in this year is a change too. But I think in culmination with all those things, that’s what’s led to the season that we’ve had as compared to last year.”

From Onumonu’s perspective, 2022 was “just a mess” and was “really hard.” She doesn’t feel like the team was set up for success.

This season, though, the team entered with a clear plan and expectations.

“There’s not this mentality, that underdog mentality, because Gotham/Sky Blue has always been that team that it’s like, ‘Ooh, at the bottom of the table.’ It’s not a secret,” she said. “Like, even before I got here, it was like, very much up and down, up and down, mostly down. … I think the club has grown so much. I think that’s part of the reason why we are where we are now.”

“Snacks” co-host Lynn Williams served as a key offseason addition, and the midseason signing of World Cup champion Esther González provided an additional boost. And the buy-in from all the players is something Williams has noticed in her first year with the club.

“It just seemed like everybody who was here last year said, ‘No, we’re just gonna buy into this, and we want to do better,’” she said. “Because you have not had the success you wanted in prior years. So I don’t know, I just like being on this team.”