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Mana Shim scores for Gotham FC, finds closure after 5 year hiatus

Photo Copyright Vincent Carchietta for USA TODAY Sports

“It’s been a long time since I’ve done this,” said Mana Shim as she took the podium at a post-game press conference.

NJ/NY Gotham FC had just been eliminated from the 2023 UKG Challenge Cup following a 1-1 draw with the Orlando Pride on August 9, but the moment was bittersweet. It had been eight years and four days since Shim last scored in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Fighting back tears, Shim reflected on her first goal since 2015.

“I couldn’t even celebrate [when I scored] because I was like, we have to win this game,” she said. “Now that I have some time to reflect on it, it’s obviously amazing. I’m just so grateful that [Gotham] trusted me to even be in the position to be on the field at that time. I don’t want to get emotional, but it was really special.”

Shim, who retired from her professional soccer career in 2018, made waves in the NWSL when she came forward along with Sinead Farrelly to whistleblow on the abuse they faced in the league which appeared in an article in The Athletic. The fallout of their allegations led to wide-sweeping reforms, including the adoption of the league’s first-ever Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In June, it was announced that Shim would join Gotham on a National Team Replacement contract making a return to the sport after nearly a decade.

For Shim, this moment of scoring her first goal marked yet another milestone as she sees this time back with the league as a period of finding closure.

One last time with Gotham

Re-joining the NWSL was no easy decision for Shim, but Gotham’s player-centric front office including former player and general manager Yael Averbuch West and assistant general manager Nathan Goldberg made Shim’s choice to play again an easier one.

“I knew that [this front office] had the same goals in mind for women’s professional soccer that I have, so I felt like at least from the top and leadership, we’re on the same page,” she explained.

Gotham’s veteran roster was also a draw for Shim, who previously played with McCall Zerboni, Allie Long, Michelle Betos, and Farrelly, all of whom helped give her an idea of how much had changed since they last played all together for Portland in 2015.

In just a few weeks with Gotham, Shim has made a significant impact on the field. As the team lost a number of midfielders and defenders to the World Cup including Kristie Mewis, Kelley O’Hara, and Farrelly, Shim has stepped up wherever she has been needed and provided an extra spark whenever she has come off the bench. Shim credits Gotham’s coaching staff for instilling the confidence in her that she needs.

“I love this coaching staff. I think they’re incredibly and very smart,” she said. “I have learned more in this short time [with Gotham] than I did in years in the NWSL. I love the way that when we’re playing well, it doesn’t matter where you are on the field. Our coaches trust us to play whatever role we need to in the moment.”

For Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós, seeing Shim shine with Gotham has been a point of pride.

“I’m very, very happy for her and everything she has done,” he said. “For her goal to be a winning goal would have been ideal, but I’m extremely happy with how she’s been [playing] with us.”

Finding joy in the small moments

As her time as a National Team Replacement Player wraps up, Shim has continued to find closure in moments both big and small with Gotham.

“There are certain things since I’ve been here [with Gotham] that have felt like it’s wrapped up my career,” Shim explained. “Certain things like training with Sinead again, having some time with old friends, having a good training session, winning small-sided, stuff that I really missed and I enjoy now. Every time a moment like that happens, I feel like I can be done now. We wrapped it up. But then I wake up again the next day and want to do it again. I’m still hungry.”

From moments with her teammates to finding results on the field, Shim isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I’m so glad we beat Portland,” she said of the team’s 2-1 win over her former side back on July 9. “That was just extremely satisfying. When we talk about things that make me feel like my career is wrapped up, that’s one of them.”

In addition to her personal triumphs in her return to play, Shim is grateful to get a front-row seat to some of the changes that have happened in the league since her return.

“There are so many [positive changes] to even name, but obviously the CBA is huge. There’s just a lot more support and infrastructure now. Even just the game day feels way more professional. What I feel here is a sense of safety, security, trust, and professionalism. From a player’s perspective, that’s really nice. I feel really grateful that I just get to enjoy it. I don’t have to worry and stress about all the little things that were obviously on my mind back then.”

Shim is equally impressed with the continued investment in the league and commended NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman for her work and passion for growing the league.

“[Berman] is so sincere when she talks about making the pie bigger,” she said. “I love having a commissioner that’s like, let’s get it.”

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