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Lynn Williams shakes off trade ‘shock’ to focus on Gotham

Lynn Williams returned to the USWNT in January after nearly a year away recovering from an injury. (Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

On Jan. 12, Lynn Williams was in camp with the U.S. women’s national team, an ocean away from the NWSL draft taking place in Philadelphia. Just two hours before she became the centerpiece of a trade from the Kansas City Current, she found out she might be on the move. She then learned she was on her way to Gotham FC in real time, hearing the announcement along with the public.

“It was a shock, it wasn’t on my radar,” she told the media in an introductory press conference with Gotham on Tuesday. “I’m in New Zealand at my first camp, and it just kind of threw me for a second.”

Williams saw her first game minutes in almost a year with the national team in January, following a long road back to playing after getting reconstructive surgery on her hamstring. She looked like her old self in limited minutes, notching a goal and an assist off the bench in two games against New Zealand.

Then she turned her attention to her new club situation at home.

“In this world and in soccer, you have to be able to compartmentalize and that’s exactly what I did at the time,” Williams said. “I was with the national team, so I focused on the national team. And now that that camp is over, I put all my energy into Gotham.”

Gotham is in the middle of a strategic rebuild, with a roster full of talent that underachieved in 2022. Despite finishing last in the NWSL standings last season, the club believes in its potential. So much so that the front office made a number of aggressive trades this offseason, including for Williams, a two-time NWSL champion and the 2016 NWSL MVP.

Williams described Gotham’s communication after the trade as “top-notch.” She said the club helped her immensely with the logistics of moving to New Jersey without much time to plan.

“That’s what I think any player would want,” she said. “Soccer is a business, I completely understand that, but there’s definitely a human side to things and Gotham so far has gone above and beyond to not only get Lynn the soccer player, but Lynn the human here as well. And I think that we’re building something really special here.”

The warm welcome is warranted. Williams brings a winning standard — she notes that she’s never missed the NWSL playoffs in her career — and an understanding of the kind of environment necessary to bring out the best of a team on the field. Gotham wants to play a high-press style of soccer, with players winning the ball back quickly and putting opponents on their heels. It’s just the style at which Williams has long excelled.

“I think I will always have an edge to me,” she said when asked whether she has something to prove in 2023. “I think that that’s just how I play, how I have grown up. I think that for my whole career, I’ve always been overseen a bit, and I don’t know if that plays a part in it, but I think I will continue to have that.”

As she joins a team looking for a competitive edge, Williams thinks it’s a perfect fit.

“After the shock, the initial shock wore off, I was able to just take a step back and say, you know what, I actually think this is going to be a good thing,” she said.

With a club career that has taken her from Western New York to North Carolina to Kansas City and now to New Jersey, Williams prides herself on being able to stay even-keeled off the pitch.

“You just have to find something that’s yours that you can keep consistent in your life,” she said. “And for me, that’s stuff that’s outside of soccer. So as long as that’s going well, then you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable in the soccer world.”

In the soccer world, Gotham isn’t shying away from big expectations: The goal is still championship or bust. With the additions of Yazmeen Ryan, Kelley O’Hara and Abby Smith, among others, last year’s basement dwellers believe they’re ready to take the next step and see out the original vision that general manager Yael Averbuch West introduced last offseason.

For Williams, it all begins with taking care of the human element first.

“At the end of the day, you want to be somewhere where a team wants you,” she said. “And I want to be at Gotham because they want me.”

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.