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Gotham FC’s journey from embattled club to Challenge Cup finalist


Gotham FC’s 2021 rebrand is more than a name change.

The club, formerly known as Sky Blue FC, has come a long way since its days with toilet-less locker rooms and potholed fields.

With Gotham days away from appearing in the NWSL Challenge Cup final against the Portland Thorns, it’s hard to believe that only three years ago, the club appeared to be on the brink of implosion.

Timeline: A team in peril to a championship squad
2018: Sam Kerr puts Sky Blue on blast

A summer 2018 matchup between Sky Blue and the Chicago Red Stars changed the trajectory of the New Jersey-based club.

Sam Kerr, a former Sky Blue player, scored a hat trick for the Red Stars but took no joy in clobbering her former teammates.

In a postgame press conference, the Australian forward told reporters:

“I’m just going to say the girls deserve better and leave it at that. These girls are great girls. They give everything for this club and this league, and they just deserve better. I scored a hat trick, but I wasn’t myself today. I feel sick playing against these girls.”

Kerr’s suggestions spurred a flurry of reports about life inside Sky Blue, citing horrific working conditions and forcing a response from the club.

Accounts of housing insecurity, inadequate travel accommodations and decaying training facilities continued to plague the organization.

A report that Sky Blue players were using a trailer with running water as a bathroom was enough to send most fans over the edge.

Winter 2019: Draftees refuse to sign with Sky Blue

Sky Blue FC hit a new low in 2019 when top draft picks Julia Ashley and Hailie Mace chose not to play for the team.

Reports exposing the club’s dire conditions had now impacted their ability to recruit talent.

Ashley and Mace both opted to start their professional careers in Sweden rather than join the embattled club.

2019: Tammy Murphy steps in and Tony Novo steps down

When Tammy Murphy, co-owner of Sky Blue and wife of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, caught wind of the club’s untenable conditions, she decided it was time to get involved.

Shortly thereafter, Tony Novo, whom many blamed for Sky Blue’s lack of resources, stepped down as general manager.

Alyse LaHue was named interim general manager in his place. She immediately began turning the club around behind the scenes, tackling everything from the front office staff to the squad’s playing environment.

June 2019:  Sky Blue fires Denise Reddy

The substandard conditions off the field at Sky Blue were compounded by the team’s poor performances on the field.

Head coach Denise Reddy was let go after an abysmal two seasons with the team, posting a 1-24-8 record in her tenure.

Shortly after the shake-up, Freya Coombe was named interim head coach and later permanent head coach in December 2019.

Fall 2019: Sky Blue signs with Red Bull Arena

In late 2019, Tammy Murphy announced that Sky Blue had inked a deal with Red Bull Arena for the 2020 season.

The venue upgrade signaled the team’s commitment to improving player conditions and a greater investment in the league writ large.

Spring 2021: A new era

After making a run to the semifinals during the 2020 Challenge Cup, Sky Blue appeared to be on the upswing.

In April, that came in the form of a rebrand and name change. As NJ/NY Gotham FC, the team expanded into the New York market just in time for the 2021 Challenge Cup.

Challenge Cup 2021: Birth of a contender

Gotham got off to a hot start in in their first competitive games under the new name, defeating Orlando and North Carolina.

Then mid-tournament, Gotham added a big name to their roster. Long Island native Allie Long returned to her hometown team in May in a trade from the OL Reign.

Despite going scoreless in their last two games, Gotham quieted any remaining detractors by securing a trip to the NWSL Challenge Cup championship game without dropping a match all tournament.

On May 8, Gotham FC will play for the Challenge Cup title, a feat unimaginable only a few short years ago.

The club’s tale of undervalued underdog turned East Division champs is one of horror and hope.

Gotham’s meteoric rise underlines the vital role investment plays in the NWSL and the game more broadly — a lesson that will loom large as the league addresses critical issues, like impending salary negotiations.

Gotham FC star Midge Purce put it best with her recent remarks at a White House event.

“You would never expect a flower to bloom without water,” she said. “But women in sport who have been denied water, sunlight, and soil are somehow expected to blossom.”