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As Gotham FC aspires to titles, Estelle Johnson reflects on club’s evolution

Gotham FC’s Estelle Johnson (Lewis Gettier/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

NJ/NY Gotham FC has seen it all.

The original NWSL club used to consistently be among the bottom teams in the league. This year, they’re projected as one of its strongest squads. After nearly winning the Challenge Cup final last year and finishing fifth in the 2021 regular season standings, Gotham has retooled its roster to make a run at a title (or two) this season.

What stands out to defender Estelle Johnson about the club’s journey is their relationship with the players.

“I think we’re finally starting to put all the pieces together, and it’s showing just with how we’re treated more professionally now,” said Johnson, who joined the team in 2019.

Gotham now shares the RBNY Training Facility with the New York Red Bulls. But before 2020, under owners Phil and Tammy Murphy and Steven Temares, the club (then known as Sky Blue FC) came under fire over reports of inadequate housing and training conditions. They even lost top draft picks because players opted to go overseas instead of join the embattled club.

In 2021, Gotham made their debut at Red Bull Arena after playing for a decade at Rutgers’ Yurcak Field, a 5,000-seat university stadium. In their first season at the new facility, they improved from the worst attendance in the league to the fourth-best, with a 5,150 average. They have also made numerous changes to their coaching and front office staff.

“Oh my gosh, it’s been a lot,” Johnson said.

In a turning point last season, the rebranded team finished second in the Challenge Cup and reached the NWSL postseason for the first time since 2013. This year they added U.S. women’s national team players Kristie Mewis, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, and Japanese national team player Kumi Yokoyama. New to the ownership group are Kristin Bernert and Karen Bryant, co-founders of KB2 Sports, a consulting firm focused on driving investment and innovation in women’s sports.

“We’re finally stepping up in competing with the best clubs in the league, so it’s exciting and I foresee that it’s just going to continue getting better,” said Johnson.

Former Gotham coach Freya Coombe (2019-21) now leads Angel City FC, one of two 2022 expansion teams that have emphasized player treatment and female leadership.

The changes Coombe started implementing in New York before leaving for the ACFC job have inevitably helped with their on-field performances. While watching San Diego Wave FC and Angel City make their NWSL debuts against each other on Saturday, Johnson was “blown away” by the formations and game plans they were able to put together in such a short time.

Johnson is one of several Gotham players — including Caprice Dydasco, Imani Dorsey and Paige Monaghan — who have been with Gotham FC through the turnover of the past few years. In 2021, the defender made 19 starts and recorded an 87.4 percent passing success rate. Former Gotham goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, now with San Diego, recently referred to Johnson as one of the two best defenders she’s ever played with.

“Estelle’s been there, done it,” said head coach Scott Parkinson. “She’s actually fabulous.”

Gotham fell 2-0 to North Carolina Courage in their opening game of the 2022 Challenge Cup, but with Mewis and Ifeoma Onumonu expected to return from injuries, they’re officially ready to turn the page Friday against the reigning NWSL champion Washington Spirit.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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