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A game of high pressure: How the Thorns-Gotham NWSL semifinal will be won

Gotham’s high press works great…usualy. Portland is a team that can handle it.

© Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 National Women’s Soccer League playoffs are upon us, opening with Portland Thorns hosting Gotham FC this Sunday. During the regular season, these two shared the spoils — Gotham won 2-1 in their home game back in July, before Portland won 1-0 at Providence Park in October.

Here, we look into how both matches were won and lost, and analyze some of the key tactical patterns that could come into play when the sides meet again this weekend.

Gotham play for territory, not possession

Only the North Carolina Courage saw more of the ball in this year’s NWSL regular season than Gotham, who averaged 54.1% possession. Gotham, however, are not a possession-focused team, and they demonstrated as much in both of their meetings with Portland. On each occasion, they were happy to lose the ball but gain territory.

Going long towards the frontline, or playing switch balls out to the advancing full-backs, Gotham generally avoided playing in front of Portland, giving the Thorns no real opportunities to press. And, even if the long ball was inaccurate, it often created scrappy loose ball scenarios or throw-ins, both of which Gotham would press from, trying to regain and attack from inside Portland’s half.

Don’t expect Gotham to change that strategy for this weekend. They will most likely attempt to play over or around Portland, win second balls or apply pressure on the opponent. 

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