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Gotham FC fall to San Diego Wave in 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup

San Diego Wave FC narrowly defeats Gotham FC 1-0 in the 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup in a game full of pomp, circumstance, and defense

Blue and white confetti rains down on the members of the San Diego Wave, lifting the Challenge Cup trophy and their arms in the air
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It was lights, camera, action for the National Women’s Soccer League as defending champions NJ/NY Gotham FC  hosted last season’s Shield winners San Diego Wave FC in the 2024 Challenge Cup to kick off the season. Broadcasted on Amazon Prime for the first time, 14,000 fans packed Red Bull Arena eagerly awaiting the year’s first game. It was a star-studded event, with even Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff stopping by to mark the occasion. 

“To be able to come to the championship team playing for this cup on opening night, this is the perfect time,” Emhoff exclusively told The Equalizer. “Someone’s going to walk away with a cup tonight, so I expect they’re going to have a really tough game. Luckily I’m neutral so I can root for both!” 

The Second Gentleman would prove correct in his assessment, as the teams remained deadlocked in a scoreless battle until Alex Morgan put the visiting Wave up by one, burying a header from a corner kick in the 88th minute and giving San Diego a trophy to start the year.

“Just to get the win and the goal in the final minutes, it was really important for our team to start off this season right,” said Alex Morgan after the game. “It was a gritty performance, we had to work our way into the game, Gotham had the better first 20 to 30 minutes, but we fought hard and had a good mentality.”

“I’m really proud of this squad and I’m so pleased they had this moment, they had the stage, they had the medal, they cup, and I think it’s what they deserved,” said Wave head coach Casey Stoney. “[Alex Morgan] comes on [in the second half] and scores a winner, and that’s what Alex does.”

The loss is certainly a disappointment for Gotham, as the pressure was on for the budding superteam to show its stuff for the first time since adding four U.S. women’s national team stars and a slew of other high profile signings in the offseason. 

“All in all, I genuinely thought we did well,” said Gotham goalkeeper Cassie Miller. “We were connecting passes, shifting defensively as a unit. Especially for the first game, I thought it was pretty impressive.”

For New York native Crystal Dunn, who debuted for Gotham in the second-half to raucous applause from the crowd, the result was just another motivator to continue to push with her new team for success in the ultra-competitive NWSL.

“Every game this season is going to be hard,” Dunn said. “It doesn’t matter who is on the roster, it’s about bringing your A game every single game that you play in.”

Despite the loss, Gotham is only looking forward, ready to learn from the mistakes, shake off the loss, and focus on the 2024 campaign.

“I think something people don’t understand when it comes to sports is how helpful failure is,” Gotham forward Midge Purce said. “It’s a really big opportunity for this team to come together and grow in ways that will have to happen regardless of what tonight gave us. This will force us to make some necessary changes and we’ll be better for it.”

Although the group fell short, the pomp and circumstance around the game was further proof of a growing league, fresh off a new multi-channel broadcast deal. 

While Gotham has struggled with attendance over the years, a record-setting stadium full of fans showed out to support their local team, and the players felt the difference.

“Tonight was special. I have to give so much praise to everyone who came out,” said Purce. “This isn’t an easy place to get to, it isn’t the most accommodating location, I have so much respect and I’m really humbled by the outpouring of support.”

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