Midge Purce to miss rest of 2024 NWSL season with ACL: How can Gotham find solutions in attack

NJ/NY Gotham FC’s super team era took a big hit this week, when the club announced that 2023 NWSL Championship MVP Midge Purce tore her ACL in the team’s opening regular season match at the Portland Thorns on Sunday.

The injury means that Purce has been placed on the season-ending injury list by Gotham, and rules her out of the running for a spot on the u.S. women’s national team’s Olympics roster after being a part of the squad that won the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup this month.

It throws quite a wrinkle in Gotham’s attacking plans, as Purce has played a big role during Juan Carlos Amoros’ tenure at the club. She was the team’s starter as a right-sided attacker both last season and at the very early stages of this season, scoring four goals and notching four assists in 2023. That includes the assists to both goals in Gotham’s 2-1 win over the Seattle Reign in last November’s Championship, which seemingly served as a promising sign of things to come for 2024.

Amoros, though, will now have to change tack as Gotham aim to follow up last year’s victory with a strong season, especially after acquiring four of the league’s most coveted free agents during the offseason.

Here’s a look at the players who could slot in as Purce begins her road to recovery.

Yazmeen Ryan

The versatile 25-year-old is perhaps the frontrunner to play in Purce’s role going forward based on empirical data. Most of Ryan’s reps for Gotham have been as a central midfielder, since joining the team before the start of the 2023 campaign, but she’s generally been the first name on the list to play right wing when Purce cannot. She both came on in Purce’s place on Sunday and did so on a number of occasions last season, both as a substitute and as a starter when Purce was not in the lineup.

That includes a stretch last spring, when Ryan started four NWSL matches as a right-sided midfielder. It’s hard to directly compare that sample size with Purce’s entire body of work for Gotham, but there are some similarities to note. Ryan averaged 51.54 touches per game, slightly more than Purce’s 44.79, and 28.28 pass attempts, a little more than Purce’s 21.12. Ryan’s passing accuracy is also slightly better at 75% and 76.6% in the attacking third, while Purce was at 70% and 73.9% in the respective categories.

Purce’s attacking output still outranks Ryan’s, but that could be down to their natural stylistic differences as players. Ryan did not score or register an assist during that time and averaged 0.1 expected goals and 0.12 expected assists per match, while Purce has averaged 0.28 expected goals and 0.38 expected assists during her time at Gotham so far. Ryan also had 1.82 shots per match and 0.91 chances, while Purce hit 2.44 shots and 1.9 chances per 90 minutes.

Lynn Williams

This is more of a long-term option since Williams is currently out with a thigh injury, and though there’s no timeline on her recovery, she will likely be around to play a big role for Gotham in 2024.

Williams usually occupies a similar role to Purce but on the opposite flank, but Williams’ output in 2023 is also comparable to Ryan’s during her shift as a right midfielder last spring. She’s almost smack in the middle as it pertains to touches with 48.97 per game in 2023 and posted 26.86 pass attempts, a little bit less than Ryan but better than Purce. Williams’ pass completion leaves a little to be desired at 63.1% and 62.9% in the attacking third, though.

This comes as little surprise considering her eight goal, three assist season in 2023, but Williams fares better than Ryan from an attacking standpoint. She had 0.39 expected goals and 0.12 expected assists, as well as 3.64 shots per game and 1.12 chances created. The thing about Williams replacing Purce, though, means someone would have to replace her on the left wing, which leads us to our next contenders…

Crystal Dunn

Considering Dunn’s reputation as a versatile player in the most elite sense, it’s hard not to toss her name into the conversation. She’s started just once for Gotham since joining in the offseason, but played Sunday’s game against the Thorns as a left winger. Though she has predominantly been a left-sided player throughout her career, it would be far from the first time a coach asked Dunn to try something else, especially if Amoros prefers to have Williams on the left when she returns.

Last week’s outing was on the shorter side for Dunn, but she managed 33 touches in 66 minutes and 15 attempted passes and seems poised to play a more advanced role for Gotham while competing for a defensive role on the USWNT with club and country teammate Jenna Nighswonger. Dunn’s move to right wing, though, would be a lot like Williams in that it might open up one other spot on the pitch and force Amoros to make more tinkers to his lineup.

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