Moments before Esther 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 stepped on the pitch at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night, she stood alongside her Gotham FC teammates and glanced at the crowd of 6,202 fans. Wide-eyed, she took it all in. This was, after all, a moment she had been preparing months for.
The quiet reflection preceded what was an electric night for the new Gotham signing.
The 30-year-old striker, who lifted a World Cup trophy with Spain just 28 days before, notched her first two goals for Gotham in five minutes in a win over the Washington Spirit. The brace had the entire stadium cheering her name while giving Gotham a much-needed boost with the postseason fast approaching. 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 is the sixth player in NWSL history to score a brace in her first two league appearances, and second since 2015. All this during her home debut.
The evening confirmed for 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 what she already knew: coming to the United States was the right decision for her.
“It’s not easy joining a new team, coming to another country. I don’t understand the language,” 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 said in Spanish after the match. “So, I’m really satisfied with what I’ve achieved. … I’m super grateful. I am very happy, really, every single day I go to training.
“Because when you don’t have to pretend and it simply is the way it’s supposed to be, I believe the result of today’s game is that of a person who is happy, and who is in the right place.”
But finding the right place hasn’t been easy for 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄, who, in recent months, has endured a season of constant adversity. She had recently played for Real Madrid who benched her despite her talent and is part of a Spanish federation that is now publicly at odds with its players.
After Christmas in the 2022-23 season, Real Madrid’s manager Alberto Toril stopped relying on 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄, even keeping her on the bench for some matches. She did not participate in the final phase of the Copa de la Reina. And still, the striker excelled at the club of her dreams. In June, after two years with Madrid, the Spanish club let her go despite 39 goals and eight assists in 77 matches. She left as the team’s highest goal scorer.
骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 told The Athletic she saw being sidelined as unfair, given her performances and goalscoring stats. She said before the World Cup that sometimes the numbers speak for themselves.
During the World Cup, 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 was a free agent with lots of promise, yet seemingly no club to call home. Still, she contributed to her team’s triumphant World Cup run, playing in five matches and starting three games. In her debut, 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 scored a goal in the group stage against Costa Rica.
What many did not know, though, was that she and Gotham FC had already reached an understanding before the tournament began, team officials confirmed this week at an event welcoming 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 to the club. Current club teammate Ali Krieger gave fans a small preview of the signing during a watch-along of the final with the Men in Blazers podcast last month when she let slip that 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 would be headed to New Jersey.
??? En Estados Unidos (Ali Krieger) ya dan por hecho el fichaje de Esther 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 por Gotham FC. Todo apunta que llegará a Nueva York después del Mundial. pic.twitter.com/OIApRlgtWM
— Arnau 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 Argudo (@ArnauGonzalez13) August 11, 2023
Gotham FC announced the signing on Aug. 23 — only three days after the World Cup final. That same day, 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 was finalizing her visa and preparing a move to the U.S., she told The Athletic.
“On the 22nd, we stopped doing the events with the national team. On the 23rd I was applying for a visa. And as soon as they returned my passport, I came to the States,” she said, with a laugh.
Meanwhile, the turmoil within Spanish football, which had been brewing in the lead-up to the World Cup, appeared publicly after the final when Luis Rubiales, the former head of the Spanish federation (RFEF), forcibly kissed Jennifer Hermoso during the medal ceremony. This set off an international ripple effect and ongoing fallout.
The players continue to stand together, with twenty members of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad saying they will not return to the national team for this month’s Nations League fixtures, despite Rubiales’ resignation and the sacking of head coach Jorge Vilda. A statement signed by 39 players in total called for a full restructure of RFEF to remove people who “have held, incited, hidden or applauded attitudes that go against the dignity of women.”
When asked about the entire situation by multiple reporters, 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 was poignant in her response: of course, it’s upsetting that her team’s World Cup victory was mired by this scandal. But, her focus now is on playing for Gotham and the games ahead.
Joining Gotham “was something I had been thinking about for a long time,” she said earlier this week. She now plays alongside other World Cup winners, signing with Gotham through 2025 with a mutual option for 2026.
“I also have the privilege of sharing a locker room with Ali Krieger, with Kelly O’Hara, with Allie Long – who all have already won World Cups, whose mentality is that of a winner, which I believe mine is like, too,” 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 said.
骋辞苍锄á濒别锄’s second goal on Saturday was off an assist from USWNT forward Lynn Williams. After sprinting up the flank, Williams delivered 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 a well-placed ball in the box, where 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 is most dangerous. The striker quickly positioned herself between two Spirit players before drilling the ball into the back of the net.
Twice as nice for @Estheeer9 ?
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 17, 2023
“Esther has been great for us,” Williams said. “She’s brought a different kind of style. I think the best teams that I’ve been on in the NWSL bring a whole different blend of cultures — and that’s what Esther brings is, you know, a Spanish flair. The same as Mai (Maitane Lopez) and Bruninha.”
“The blend of cultures just brings something different, and (Esther) brings a calm presence to the game,” she continued. “She doesn’t speak much English, but … soccer is a world sport. It’s a world language, and so to be able to communicate out there with no English is pretty special.”
Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós has emphasized the global language of soccer to reporters. It’s something he’s seen throughout his career. The Spanish manager, with stints at Real Betis Féminas in Spain and Tottenham Hotspurs’ women’s side in England, joined the NWSL last year. He served as an interim coach for the Houston Dash. 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 is a player he’s known well throughout his career, having coached against her in Liga F.
“I suffered (against) her in a lot of matches in the past, on the opposition, and she’s a player that we studied really well,” Amorós said. “But once you get to know her on both sides, the personal and obviously the footballing one, you will start seeing why we believe she is that kind of player that we want to build this project on.”
骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 played 90 minutes for Gotham against the Spirit, starting for her new club inside a stadium that cheered her name countless times. After the match, the club’s general manager, Yael Averbuch West, presented the World Cup winner with a bouquet, and fans, again, cheered on that night’s player of the match.
It would be reasonable to assume that 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 needed more rest in recent weeks, but the striker is certain she did not need more time between winning a World Cup and her NWSL debut. 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 said she was able to “free myself mentally,” despite the physical and mental toll that a World Cup brings.
“We’re all willing to sacrifice two months of our lives to be a world champion,” she said.
骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 isn’t stopping there. She says she wants to achieve more in her career.
“I think I’m coming at the optimal time,” 骋辞苍锄á濒别锄 said, citing her maturity and experience on the pitch. “I was in the First Division in Spain for 14 years. I understood it was time to try another experience, to improve. Right now, I don’t know what I’m going to achieve here. So that’s what I’ve come to do, to get the best out of myself, to push myself to the limit, and to be available for the team to do that.”
She added, “I am an ambitious player with the desire for more.”
(Photo: Ira L. Black – Corbis/Getty Images)