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

@GothamFC

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.”

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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