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Kassouf: In search of NWSL rivalries

• There’s Portland-Seattle and… then what? LA-San Diego could develop, but it has to naturally
• Eye-catching and eyebrow-raising performances of the week
• Tactical trend to watch plus the can’t-miss quote of the week

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

In theory, opening weekend of the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season featured the scrumptious, high-profile matchup the league would surely like to promote: New York (but really New Jersey) visited Los Angeles in front of a sellout crowd laced with celebrities.

NJ/NY Gotham FC and Angel City FC feel like they could become rivals, and there are people who want them to be that. Gotham forward Margaret “Midge” Purce first discussed the idea of Gotham being the “villains” to balance out the angelic vibes in LA a year before Angel City first kicked a ball.

Off the field, there have been contributions — again, in theory — to possibly developing a New York-LA rivalry, from Angel City poaching then Gotham head coach Freya Coombe in the middle of the 2021 season, to a tampering fine that soon followed as the LA side tried to acquire Gotham midfielder Allie Long. And from a branding perspective, Gotham certainly seems to be trying the same edgy marketing approach with less success and fewer resources than Angel City.

That season-opening match on March 26 contributed an on-field chapter. Gotham won a game that was undeniably changed by the new VAR (video assistant referee) system. Jun Endo’s would-be stunning goal was controversially called back, and momentum shifted entirely away from the home side by the time VAR led to a penalty kick for Gotham early in the second half. The crowd of 22,000 fans in LA booed the referee crew off the pitch following Gotham’s 2-1 victory.

“I was eating it up. I was like yes, we’re the villains,” Purce said after the match, at first thinking her team was the target of the crowd.

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