The Gotham FC Turnaround Is a Blueprint for Success in the NWSL

In a five-year span, Gotham FC transformed from the least desirable destination in the NWSL into a super team. But while the turnaround has been quite impressive, its blueprint could be repeatable for other teams as well. 

Gotham FC isn’t here to play around. The reigning NWSL champions have been busy this offseason, and have put together a downright terrifying roster that should have them as the early favorites for a repeat.


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Fresh off the club’s improbable run to the 2023 NWSL title as a No. 6 seed, Gotham signed a gaudy four-headed monster of World Cup winners in Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Rose Lavelle, and Emily Sonnett. The fierce free agent foursome bolsters an already impressive roster that includes United States women’s national team regulars Lynn Williams, Midge Purce, and Kelley O’Hara, 2023 World Cup winner Esther Gonzalez, and reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger, among others.

The moves indicate one thing — Gotham isn’t resting on its laurels for one second. But to describe the team’s situation as a case of the rich getting richer isn’t quite accurate. This has been part of a concerted effort to turn around what once was an embarrassingly foundering franchise.

Just five years ago, the team could only be described as down immensely bad. The 2018 season for what was then Sky Blue FC was an unmitigated disaster on all fronts. On the pitch, Sky Blue won just one game all season and posted the fewest point total in NWSL history, but the results were just a by-product of the rot that ran all the way to the foundation of the franchise.

The team had multiple training facilities, and sometimes players didn’t know which one to show up to until the night before training. The facilities themselves were not up to professional standards, at times lacking access to water, having uneven playing surfaces, and a makeshift training room that saw players taking ice baths in empty trash cans.

The home stadium, which was on the campus of Rutgers University, lacked proper infrastructure as well. The locker rooms were cramped and had no air conditioning, and there were no showers. Reports from Once a Metro, Deadspin, Soccer America, and other outlets spurred fan outrage, which prompted a response from the club that vowed it would improve, but the change took a while to manifest.

The housing situation was bleak as well. Players were forced to move several times throughout the season, and some even had to stay with host families that had little to no understanding of the commitment of a professional athlete.

Drafted players declined to sign with the team, instead opting to go overseas, and you could hardly blame them. Who’d want to play for a club that seemingly didn’t care about the well-being of its players?

General manager and club president Tony Novo, the target of ire from fans and players alike, stepped down from his role with the team in 2019, which signaled the start of positive change.

Ahead of the 2020 season, Sky Blue partnered up with the New York Red Bulls to use the same training facilities and home stadium, although the season was replaced with the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

gotham fc rebrand

Things continued to trend upward for the club in 2021, which was highlighted by a full-blown rebrand, perhaps the most successful one the league has ever seen.

A slick new logo and Statue of Liberty-inspired color scheme made way for striking kits, but it was far from a purely aesthetic upgrade. The club introduced a new front office team, headlined by general manager Yael Averbuch West, who also happened to be the first college draft pick in franchise history.

Averbuch West, a USWNT alum, was the executive director of the NWSL Players Association prior to her hiring at Gotham, and she was instrumental in negotiating an improved collective bargaining agreement for players during her tenure.

In addition, an all-female executive team was introduced in late 2022, consisting of senior vice president of partnerships, in-game experience, and community Nan Vogel, senior vice president of marketing and brand Jonna Valente, and senior vice president of ticket sales and service Alexa Fuentes. In 2023, the club added senior vice president of communications Christa Mann, and chief of staff Darian Jenkins to its executive roster.

The new look, executives, and commitment to turning things around got the attention of celebrity investors as well. Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s Thirty Five Ventures got into the mix in May 2022, which was followed by WNBA legend Sue Bird and former NFL quarterback Eli Manning. Because what’s an NWSL franchise these days without a cadre of celebrity investment?

Gotham FC was finally looking like a proper professional sports team, but the results didn’t instantly translate onto the pitch. Despite a solid fifth-place showing in 2021 that included the first playoff match the franchise played in since 2013, Gotham found itself in the cellar once more in 2022.

A last-place finish might not have been a massive deal for the club in years past, but the new-look Gotham FC wanted to make it clear that the standard had been raised.

In the offseason, the club hired new head coach Juan Carlos Amorós, traded for USWNT forward Lynn Williams, and signed Abby Smith and Spanish international (and future World Cup winner) Esther Gonzalez, in addition to drafting eventual NWSL Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger.

The result was a return to the playoffs, albeit barely. It took until the last match of the season for Gotham to secure its postseason fate, but the team rode the momentum all the way to a surprising appearance in the NWSL Cup Final, where it upset a formidable OL Reign side.

The 2023 offseason took the previous year’s ambition and exponentially increased it. Now with what you could call a superteam on its hands, Gotham is all in on a repeat, which would put another diamond in an already bedazzled turnaround.

Perhaps the most promising thing about Gotham’s transformation from a wasteland to an oasis is that it’s pretty repeatable. There doesn’t need to be an oil money-backed bankroll behind a club to turn things around. As long as there’s a concerted effort from the front office down, and capable decision makers in senior level positions, there’s no excuse to not have an at least competent and competitive team.

No matter what comes next for Gotham, the team has set a blueprint for success in this league. What was once the least desirable destination in the NWSL has now become a superteam.

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