Kelley O’Hara joined Gotham FC as a splashy free agent signing ahead of the 2023 season. And from the very first day of practice, the U.S. women’s national team defender knew the club had championship potential.

On Just Women’s Sports’ Super Show at the NWSL Championship, O’Hara recalled the first day the team came together. First-year head coach Juan Carlos Amorós laid out his vision for the season, and O’Hara felt a spark.

“I was like, wow, this is the first time I’ve sat in a room the first day of season and been like, we could we could win a championship,” O’Hara told co-hosts Christine Williamson and Sarah Gorden.

While Gotham snuck into the postseason as the No. 6 seed, they have won both of their playoff games — the first two playoff wins in franchise history — to reach the NWSL Championship final at 8 p.m. ET Saturday against OL Reign.

Gotham midfielder Allie Long also felt the potential of the team from the start of the season.

“The group that we have is really special,” Long said. “And so I’ve always had this feeling that — of course, you set that goal, and it’s such a competitive league — but yeah, we set that goal. I haven’t taken my eyes off (it).”

The team carries some extra incentive into the championship match, as they are looking to send retiring captain Ali Krieger out with a bang.

“We want to send her out the right way,” O’Hara said.

The Reign are looking to do the same for retiring star Megan Rapinoe. Neither Krieger nor Rapinoe — and neither Gotham FC nor OL Reign — have won a title. And while O’Hara can’t root for Rapinoe, she is glad to see Krieger and Rapinoe end their career on such a fitting stage.

“It’s so good. You can’t write a better script in sports,” O’Hara said. “It’s very, very cool, and they both deserve to have the opportunity to potentially win a championship.”

Get ready for the 2023 NWSL Championship with the Just Women’s Sports Super Show, hosted by Sarah Gorden and Christine Williamson.

The two break down the matchup between OL Reign and Gotham FC while also recapping a hectic 2023 season. Special guests include San Diego Wave’s Jaedyn Shaw, Gotham FC’s Kelley O’Hara and Allie Long, Angel City FC’s Sydney Leroux and Ali Riley, Kansas City’s Lo’eau LaBonta, and Just Women’s Sports’ own Claire Watkins.

It’s the funnest, rowdiest NWSL Championship preview you’ll find anywhere.

Preview the 2023 NWSL Championship by tuning into the Just Women’s Sports Super Show Presented by State Farm, featuring surprise guest appearances by NWSL stars. Watch here.

Kelley O’Hara will not be rooting for Megan Rapinoe in the last game of her professional soccer career.

While O’Hara is excited she’ll get to be on the field for Rapinoe’s sendoff during the NWSL Championship between O’Hara’s Gotham FC and Rapinoe’s OL Reign on Saturday, she’s keeping the battle lines drawn.

“I wasn’t able to go to Pinoe’s last national team game,” O’Hara said during media day on Thursday. “So I was thinking the other day I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I’ll get to be at her last game actually.’ So that’s exciting. I, unfortunately, cannot hope for her to have a good last game.”

That feeling is shared by Gotham midfielder Allie Long, who doesn’t want to hear from Rapinoe until after the final whistle blows. Gotham defender Ali Krieger is also playing in her last game Saturday before she heads off into retirement alongside Rapinoe.

“Once we knew we’re playing them, I’m like, ‘Don’t text me. I don’t want to see you,'” she said. “I feel like maybe if it wasn’t [Krieger]’s last game, Pinoe’s last game [would be different]. I feel very loyal. Even if we’re in season [and] it’s not a final, once the whistle blows, it’s like alright. And maybe before the game, we might hug it out. But we’re not pookies until after.”

O’Hara acknowledged that the narrative of Krieger and Rapinoe playing against one another in the final is “pretty incredible.”

“I mean, you can’t come up with a better storyline than the two of them playing their last game against each other for a championship,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible. And obviously what those two have done for not only this league. but the U.S. team and just soccer in general in this country, around the world, has been incredible.

“It is really crazy that it’s actually happening, and I’m so happy that it is.”

Krieger and Rapinoe will both be looking to win the first NWSL Championship of their careers, as will OL Reign and Gotham FC in the history of their organizations.

The U.S. women’s national team roster for the 2023 Women’s World Cup unveiled on Wednesday is markedly different from the one that took home the top prize in 2019.

While just two members of the 2019 squad have retired — Carli Lloyd and Ashlyn Harris — only nine players from that team will be competing at this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Here’s a look at where the 23 members of the 2019 World Cup-winning team are now.

Injured USWNT players

Injuries have been a major theme in the lead-up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and multiple members of the 2019 U.S. team are missing for that reason. The latest to join the injury list: USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn. The two-time World Cup champion has been dealing with an ankle injury and confirmed on Friday that there was “too much variability” in her return to play timeline to be named to the squad.

Other 2019 World Cup champions who are out with injury? Sam Mewis, Mallory Swanson, and Abby Dahlkemper. Tobin Press missed the end of the 2022 NWSL season with an injury and is not currently signed with a club team, while Christen Press is still rehabbing after she tore her ACL in June 2022.

Still playing, but not with the USWNT

Four members of the 2019 World Cup-winning team are still playing in the NWSL, but haven’t been called up to the U.S. national team in over a year. Allie Long (last cap: November 2019) and Ali Krieger (last cap: January 2021) are teammates for Gotham FC, with Krieger planning to retire at the end of the season. Two-time World Cup champion Morgan Gautrat (last cap: February 2022) joined the Kansas City Current ahead of the NWSL season, while Jessica McDonald (last cap: March 2020) plays for Racing Louisville. McDonald announced in May that she will miss the entire 2023 NWSL season while pregnant with her second child. The 35-year-old will serve as a studio analyst for Optus Sport during the World Cup this summer.

Missed the cut

Defender Tierna Davidson and goalkeeper A.D. Franch were in the running for the 2023 roster after appearing in recent USWNT camps but just missed Wednesday’s cut. Davidson made her return to competitive soccer this season after tearing her ACL in March 2022, but the 24-year-old did not make the cut after representing the U.S. in 2019. Likely based on recent NWSL form, Andonovski named Aubrey Kingsbury as the third-string goalkeeper over Franch.

USWNT champs making their World Cup return

That brings us to the returners from 2019. Kelley O’Hara, Lindsey Horan, Alex Morgan, Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn and Megan Rapinoe will all make their World Cup return in Australia and New Zealand. Rapinoe, Morgan and O’Hara each competed at three previous World Cups (2011, 2015, 2019), with Naeher joining in to win back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2019.

Rose Lavelle’s role with the USWNT has only grown since she scored in the 2019 World Cup final. Upon suffering a knee injury in April, her status became less certain, but Andonovski had enough faith in her progress to name her to the 2023 roster. On Wednesday, the coach said Lavelle’s injury is “not a worry for us.”

Until recently, most people didn’t expect two-time World Cup champion Julie Ertz to factor into the 2023 squad. The midfielder suffered an MCL strain in the lead-up to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and took time off after the Games to rehab. She then sat out the 2022 NWSL season while pregnant with her first child, giving birth to son Madden last August. In February, U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski said the team was “probably not going to be able to count on [her] in the World Cup.” But Ertz made her USWNT return for the team’s final training camp and friendlies in April, signed with Angel City FC and was officially named to her third World Cup roster on Wednesday.

Defender Emily Sonnett was considered on the bubble in the lead-up to the roster reveal, but the veteran earned a spot on the U.S. depth chart due in part to injuries on the backline and versatility on the frontline.

To say Gotham FC’s 2022 season didn’t go as planned would be an understatement. Despite signing a number of high-profile players to the roster before the season, the New Jersey club finished last in the NWSL standings after scoring the fewest goals and conceding the most.

The team’s response in the 2023 offseason was not to completely commit to a rebuild, but rather to move with ambition. Gotham was involved in trading both the No. 1 and the No. 2 picks in the NWSL draft, while picking up a few key signings through the league’s first free-agency period.

Gotham’s offseason moves show a deep commitment to improving upon their 2022 results, but as the dust settles, let’s take a look at a team still searching for its identity.

2022 Year in Review: A rough season in the rearview

Results in soccer don’t always tell the full picture. Some teams simply have bad luck, and their underlying stats outperform their real-life results. Usually, the response to that is to trust the process and let the results start to reflect the positive play.

But Gotham’s stats in 2022 didn’t really indicate that this would be the right way forward. The New Jersey club finished last in the NWSL with a goal differential of minus-30. The advanced stats weren’t much kinder: Gotham finished last in American Soccer Analysis’ g+ estimation, which computes collective positive actions that lead to goal-scoring chances. They were also last in the league in xG, which computes the quality of goal-scoring chances, and xPass, which computes likelihood of successful passing.

In short, Gotham struggled to progress the ball and turn progression into quality chances. Loss of possession led to pressure on the backline, and they had a hard time getting back into games after conceding goals.

“We absolutely are very unhappy with where we ended last season. We’re all really competitive people, we’re in freakin’ New Jersey, New York. We don’t lose, like that’s not okay there,” general manager Yael Averbuch West said at the 2023 NWSL draft.

Star striker Midge Purce also didn’t mince words when speaking to reporters during Gotham media day this week: “Last year is not something that was enjoyable for me. Not scoring goals, it makes me sick. And this year, I want to score goals on both the national team and for club. I want to be a top player in both settings.”

At the draft in January, Averbuch West reflected on a team in search of its identity. Heading into the 2023 season, Gotham is prioritizing attitude and team fit as much as soccer qualities.

“It’s not just looking at soccer players, it’s looking at people who are going to help us continue to build and elevate our culture through that — the way they view their craft, their footballing minds and just who they are as professionals,” she said.

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Gotham made a blockbuster trade for USWNT forward Lynn Williams in the offseason. (Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Offseason moves: Pulling off a strategic rebuild

Faced with the team’s lack of scoring in 2022, Gotham made intentional moves to bolster very specific areas of the pitch. The club acquired Yazmeen Ryan from Portland in exchange for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft. In Ryan, Gotham gets a player who is as comfortable on the frontline as she is in the attacking midfield and who was arguably one of the best players on the pitch during the 2022 NWSL championship game.

They also leveled up in the attack, bringing in USWNT forward Lynn Williams to round out the front three with Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu. Williams is a prolific NWSL goal-scorer who has looked like her old self with the USWNT after coming off of a long-term hamstring injury. Gotham will likely lose at least one forward during the 2023 World Cup, and will possibly be without all three starters, but the addition of Williams will create new problems for opposing defenses to solve.

Williams also provides a good example of how new head coach Juan Carlos Amorós wants his team to play.

“We want to be a team that dominates all the six moments of the game,” he said at the draft. “I am a big fan of the counter-press. We’re trying to regain the ball as high as possible, trying to create chances out of those situations.”

Dominating all moments of the game include plans for when the team is controlling possession, losing possession and regaining possession. To set a new defensive tone, Amorós’ Gotham could shift to a high-risk, high-reward defensive press that will attempt to pounce on unwitting NWSL backlines.

In that regard, Williams is the perfect player for the system. For a team that looked a step off in defensive transition in 2022, the change will be noticeable.

“[She brings] the right dose of standards on the defensive side,” Amorós said of Williams. “So everyone is committed.”

When asked about her approach to off-the-ball defending, Williams said in an introductory press conference, “I don’t think it’s a secret that I am like a very defensive hard working forward. I think that if you can win the ball higher up the field, then you don’t have to run back as far, so why not do that? I think that I can bring an intensity to the game that’s just, the quicker we win [the ball] back, the quicker we can be in control of the game, and the quicker we can score goals.”

While Purce wouldn’t divulge particular tactical shifts during media day, she expressed confidence in the team’s new approach.

“[Amorós is] very good at making sure everyone knows that we’re on the same page,” she said. “So tactically, technically, in every way, we all know what we’re supposed to be doing.”

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Gotham hired head coach Juan Carlos Amorós away from Houston in November. (Courtesy of Gotham FC)

2023 outlook: Risk and reward

While Gotham boosted their attacking depth in the offseason, their season might live or die at the hands of their defense. Gotham shored up the right-back position with the free-agency signing of Kelley O’Hara, who is functionally replacing former NWSL Defender of the Year Caprice Dydasco. The team also signed former Portland backup goalkeeper Abby Smith, who has NWSL starting experience and should take over full time.

But so much of the team’s 2023 success will depend on what happens when Gotham’s counter-press breaks down and the team has to adjust to quick shifts in play. The club has a number of options for center-back pairings, including Ali Krieger, Mandy Freeman and Kristen Edmonds. But they don’t necessarily have any one player who can keep up with the pace of speedy opposing forwards, so they’ll have to be prepared for counter-attacks when their energy dips.

The team is also relying heavily on the return of Allie Long in the defensive midfield to control the pace of games. During her career, Long has steadily worked her way backward in position, having developed into a hyper-accurate possessor and passer before taking a season off due to pregnancy. The 35-year-old could be the key to making sure the defense doesn’t suffer from quick switches in play in moments when Gotham has to save their legs and wants to possess.

Gotham might be able to score goals at will in 2023, but their success will depend on what they do without the ball.

“We want people to drive a standard, the winning mentality,” said Amorós.

That might be exactly the identity that Gotham is looking for.

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

NJ/NY Gotham FC midfielder Allie Long announced Friday that she is pregnant with twins and is due in June.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a mom,” she told PEOPLE. “I think as an athlete, you’re always playing for yourself in a way and your team, but I’m excited to kind of be in the position where I’m playing for my family and them, and a different perspective on life.”

According to the 34-year-old, who played with the U.S. women’s national team in the 2016 Olympics, she played nine weeks of the 2021 NWSL season while pregnant, but she had “no idea” at the time.

“I cried. A little bit of tears came up because I’ve always wanted to be a mom,” she says of the moment she found out she was having twins. “I love kids. But then to know that there’s two, I cried, like happy tears, but I was like, ‘Stop it. You’re lying.'”

Long joined Gotham in 2021 from OL Reign, where she played for three seasons. In December, Gotham announced that it had signed Long for the next two seasons.

She has made 51 appearances and scored eight goals for the USWNT since 2014.

Allie Long has re-signed with NJ/NY Gotham FC on a deal that will keep the midfielder with the team through 2023, the club announced on Friday.

The terms of Long’s two-year deal have not been disclosed.

The move comes after the NWSL fined Angel City FC for tampering in relation to Long in November. Long played under Freya Coombe at Gotham FC before the coach left to take the job at Angel City.

The expansion club was fined $20,000 in cash and $20,000 in 2022 unfunded allocation money for tampering.

“Bringing Allie back was a key offseason priority for us,” Gotham interim general manager Yael Averbuch West said in a press release. “She’s an incredible talent who plays with such consistency and composure. She played a big role in solidifying our midfield last season and led by example on and off the field. We’re thrilled to welcome her back.”

Long stared all 23 games she appeared in with Gotham FC this past season, scoring one goal for the fifth-place team.

The NWSL has fined Angel City FC for tampering after the club was found in violation of the league’s rules.

According to the NWSL’s release, the tampering is in relation to NJ//NY Gotham FC midfielder Allie Long. Long’s former coach, Freya Coombe, left Gotham in August to take over as the head coach of Angel City. Despite initially planning to finish the season with Gotham, Coombe departed early following the team’s Aug. 29 match against the Orlando Pride.

Angel City, which makes its NWSL debut as an expansion club next season, will be fined $20,000 in cash as well as $20,000 in 2022 unfunded allocation money.

Allie Long is making her mark on Gotham FC.

Since being traded to the NJ/NY club in April, Long has provided a sturdy defensive presence to Gotham’s midfield. The New Jersey native boasts an impressive 93.4 percent passing accuracy in her own half and a 91.1 passing success rate overall.

Now, the NWSL veteran can add goal-scorer to her 2021 stat sheet. Long banged in her first goal of the season, and first goal with Gotham, in the club’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars Sunday night.

Caprice Dydasco sent a long, bouncing cross into the box, finding Long, who expertly one-timed the pass into the back of the net, giving Gotham the lead in first-half stoppage time.

Blink, and you may have missed Long redirecting Dydasco’s pass out of the air. That one touch is worth a closer look, this time in slow motion.

Midge Purce added to Gotham’s tally in the 70th minute, converting a PK from the line to put the game at 2-0.

Never letting up, the Red Stars made things interesting in the final minute of extra time. Makenzy Doniak, spinning at the top of the box, rifled in a low shot to the far post, cutting Gotham’s lead in half.

Ultimately, Chicago’s stoppage-time heroics came too late, with Gotham holding on for the 2-1 win.

Next up: Gotham slides to second in the NWSL standings ahead of their game against the Houston Dash on Sunday. The Red Stars will head home to host the Washington Spirit on Sunday.

Allie Long is coming home.

NJ/NY Gotham FC have acquired the midfielder from OL Reign in exchange for allocation money and a second-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft. Long, who grew up on Long Island, will begin her second stint with the club after playing for Sky Blue FC in 2011.

Long spent three years with the Reign after arriving in 2018 from Portland, where she won two NWSL championships in 2013 and ’17. She also topped the goals leaderboard in 2015 and was named to the NWSL’s Best XI in 2015 and ’16.

With the Reign, she recorded three goals and three assists in 41 starts, playing a total of 3,563 minutes for the club. She had signed a contract extension this past February.

Long also has 51 caps with the United States women’s national team and was a member of the 2019 World Cup-winning squad.

“Allie has been an important part of the club since her arrival and played a crucial role in our run to the playoffs in 2018 and 2019,” OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore said in a press release. “Parting with a player of Allie’s caliber is always a difficult decision. The assets we acquired in this trade will directly support our efforts to build a roster capable of competing for a championship this season.”

Gotham, who currently lead the East Division, should benefit from Long’s playmaking ability and veteran leadership.

“I am very excited to have Allie join the team,” Gotham FC head coach Freya Coombe said. “Her distribution and ability on the ball are matched with her ability to compete & win tackles off the ball. She has a strong desire to compete and brings a wealth of experience in the league. We have emphasized recruiting players who have won championships and have a highly competitive mentality to achieve our goal of bringing trophies to NJ/NY Gotham FC and Allie embodies that mentality.”