Jenna Nighswonger stepped into a Gotham FC roster full of U.S. women’s national team veterans and current stars. And the NWSL Rookie of the Year candidate still made a name for herself.
The 22-year-old credits her success to her teammates, who put her at ease as soon as she stepped onto the field — even as she navigated a position change.
Drafted out of Florida State as a forward, Nighswonger made her name in her first season as a fullback, becoming a mainstay for Gotham in her new role. While she is still working on her defensive skills, she has enjoyed bringing an attacking mindset to the position as well.
And her fellow players, including Gotham FC captain and defender Ali Krieger, have been “so helpful” in her finding her confidence on defense, she said Thursday. Even if it was a little intimidating at first.
“I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is I was just quite nervous to come into a team with names like Ali Krieger, Lynn Williams, Kelley O’Hara,” she said Thursday. “Just because I didn’t really know. I [had] never met them before.”
But in meeting the international stars on the Gotham FC roster for the first time, Nighswonger found them to be “such good people.” The roster for the New Jersey-based club features not just Krieger, Williams and O’Hara but also USWNT players Midge Purce and Kristie Mewis, as well as Nigeria’s Ifeoma Onumonu, Spain’s Esther González and Brazil’s Bruninha.
“Everyone on the team is just amazing and they’ve been so welcoming,” she said, noting that she’s grown more comfortable with time. “I hope everyone else feels [comfortable]. We just have such a great group of girls and I think that we’re all willing to work so hard for each other and do whatever it takes to get to the final. I think it’s just amazing how in a matter of like a few months I just feel so comfortable with a whole new group of girls.”
Nighswonger and her Gotham FC teammates will face the No. 2 seed Portland Thorns at 7 p.m. ET Sunday in the NWSL semifinals with a shot in the championship match on the line.