Listen to our NWSL championship game recap with guest Jenna Tonelli
Producer, host and editor
Soccer Over Gotham Podcast
Gotham FC has one of the deepest rosters in league history. Featuring legends of the sport Allie Long, Kristie Mewis, and McCall Zerboni. How did a undrafted center back and outside back, picked up by Racing Louisville at an open tryout, put on waivers, end up starting for the NWSL championship winning team and earning herself a long term contract?
Martin's path to Gotham FC is an inspiring story of perseverance and hard work.Martin was pivotal in Gotham FCs run to the championship and earned much praise along the way. Women soccer tactical analyst David Astill had this to say about Martin’s role in the championship game: "Gotham would have found it a lot harder to execute their game plan without her being on the field"
Nealy Martin has established herself as a cornerstone of Gotham FC for many years to come. She went undrafted in the 2020 NWSL College Draft and started her career with Racing Louisville after impressing at an open tryout. Making 36 appearances for the club before ultimately being placed on waivers. Gotham FC claimed her off waivers in an under the radar move that proved very fruitful.
Martin switched positions to defensive midfield and quickly made an impact with her new club. You can’t imagine a better environment for growth for the young player. Aided by an encouraging and supportive coaching staff and being surrounded by an embarrassment of riches when it comes to players she can learn from. Captain Ali Krieger who is a coach on the field and some of the best defensive midfielders in the game in McCall Zerboni and Allie Long.
Nealy was a key player in Gotham's run to the NWSL Cup Championship appearing in 15 matches this season. Nealy excelled at winning aerial duels (92%) and progressive passing from deep positions. Oftentimes employed as a 3rd center back if the wing backs were pressed higher. Was tasked with dictating the pace of the attack and shielding the backline. Nealy is also a long throw specialist that adds another way for Gotham to force defenses to sit deeper.
"We just promised each other we would do everything in order to get here, and I am so proud of us, and I am so proud of myself," Krieger ssid. Reflecting on the team's journey from finishing last place a season ago to NWSL champions in 2023.
Nealy Martin certainly did everything she could to help the team get there. For the second time this season she was called on to wear the pink goalkeeper jersey and gloves and finish a game out in San Diego. Last time it was in relief of injured keeper Abby Smith. This time it was in the last minute of the championship finals after starting keeper Mandy Haught did everything she could to prevent a goal. Grabbing a ball outside the box to thwart an incoming attack from Elise Bennet. Martin, being coached by Ali Long, while organizing her wall, awaiting a central free kick from the top of the box, presided over by one of the most deadly players and world cup winner Rose Lavelle, is probably not how she expected to finish out this game. But just like the last time, Nealy was not called upon to make a save. The wall held. Gotham substitute forward Katie Stengel headed the ball clear of goal. Gotham held on for the win. If a script writer brought this story to a producer it would get slapped down for being too fantastical.
Martin's journey from undrafted free agent to NWSL champion is inspirational. She is a talented and determined player who has overcome adversity to achieve her dream of playing professional soccer.
She is a role model for young athletes who are pursuing their dreams. That the path to your dreams may take some unexpected turns. It’s rarely a straight line. Always be open to them and stay on the grind.
Nealy Martin is an NWSL champion.