In the NWSL's first season with free agency, there have been many exciting moves and signings. With players getting to exercise more autonomy over their careers, there have been some big splashes in the offseason.
The biggest winner of free agency so far has been NJ/NY Gotham FC, who have just secured four of free agency's most desired players. USWNT players Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Rose Lavelle, and Emily Sonnett will all sport blue and black next year.
Gotham is coming off a 2023 NWSL Championship title as Coach of the Year Juan Carlos Amorós took the team from last to first, but how were they able to land these four big names? Let's dive into why Gotham is the right spot for each of their new acquisitions and how they can help the team defend their title in 2024.
Free agency kicked off in November 2023, when new contracts could be announced for free agents. Players eligible for unrestricted free agency have played in the league for five years, while restricted free agents have three years of experience. And with so much talent in the league, the year's first free-agency period came with lots of anticipation and excitement. Additionally, the NWSL recently announced that they have increased their salary cap to $2.75 million, a big jump from last year's $1.375 million cap plus $600,000 in allocation money.
Allowing players to have a bigger say in where they play is an important and exciting milestone. Coupling that with a higher payroll allows players to get paid what they deserve, and teams now have the freedom to attract more high-quality players. Both of these changes will ultimately benefit the league and help raise the caliber of play across the board. Fresh off of a 2023 Championship Title, Gotham FC decided to capitalize on these changes and bring in some of the best available talent in NWSL free agency.
Gotham's first flashy off-season signing came on December 31 with the announcement of USWNT stalwart and versatile midfielder Crystal Dunn. Dunn, 31, boasts 140 caps and 24 goals with the national squad and a 2019 World Cup win. Previously with the Portland Thorns, Dunn's high level of skill has allowed her to play both defensive back and midfield. The Long Island native, says that joining NJ/NY Gotham FC is like coming home.
Dunn told Morning Footy that "being able to have my friends and family in the stands" and "feeling like you can play in front of a home crowd" is important to her at this point in her career. With the birth of her son in May 2022, she values being around family and friends and is thankful that free agency gave her the chance to have a bigger say in her next move. Additionally, Dunn said she's looking forward to stepping into a bigger leadership role and feels that Gotham is the right place to do that.
"I'm excited to join a team that really values me as a player and also as a leader. I think it's really an incredible environment that I can thrive in not just as a player but growing into my voice and being able to help lead and impact this team on and off the field." -Crystal Dunn to Morning Footy
25-year-old Tierna Davidson also signed with Gotham through free agency on January 2. Davidson plays center back for her former club Chicago Red Stars and the USWNT, boasting a 2019 World Cup title. Davidson is likely a shoo-in to fill an Ali Krieger-sized hole in Gotham's backline.
For Davidson, she stated Gotham was right for her based on its style of play and unified vision across the entire organization. Davidson, who rehabbed an ACL tear last season, is ready to take her game to the next level and thinks Gotham can help her with that.
"Gotham has been able to put together a really exciting, fluid style of play," Davidson told Morning Footy "It seems like a great challenge for me to grow as a player."
Additionally, coming from Chicago who last season was mired with off-field controversies, Davidson wants some stability in her next home. She found that the "team culture [Gotham] have from top to bottom throughout the whole organization, the chemistry, just seems unparalleled and I'm just really excited to join and to try to make my mark as well."
Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett
Announced as a package deal on January 4, USWNT players Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett became the newest Bats, joining the Champions whom they lost to with their former team OL Reign. 28-year-old Lavelle won the Bronze Ball at the 2019 World Cup as the tournament's third-best player. A crafty midfielder, she has 94 caps and 24 goals with the USWNT. Rose's ability on the ball will work well with Gotham's fluid style of play.
"She is a very exciting player to watch because of her creative and technical abilities," said Head Coach Juan Carlos Amorós of Lavelle. "Rose brings so much to every team she is on, and I am very excited to work with her this season."
Lavelle is joined by club and national teammate Emily Sonnett. 30-year-old Sonnett played the majority of her professional career as a defender before switching to defensive midfield in the past few seasons. Sonnett's versatility made her an important addition to a team that values its ability to be flexible and adapt its game plan on the go.
Amorós spoke highly of Sonnett, stating that she "is a very strong player, who plays the game with great passion." Adding an experienced and passionate utility player like Emily Sonnett to the roster will be beneficial to Gotham as they seek to defend their title.
What This Means For Gotham
With the addition of four Number One NWSL picks, Gotham's already talented roster just got even more stacked. However, the road to defending their title will prove to be just as challenging as last season's run. Gotham FC lost veteran defender Ali Krieger to retirement, while USWNT midfielder Kristie Mewis transferred to the English side West Ham. Additionally, Gotham's Ifeoma Onomonu, Ellie Jean, Mandy Haught, and Imani Dorsey were lost in the offseason to Bay FC and the Utah Royals.
With 2024 being an Olympic year, Gotham FC will also have to deal with the losses of many of their players for at least part of the season. Even with the break in play, they will likely face gaps as players return to play after the Olympics. Joining their four newest teammates in competition to make the USWNT Olympic roster are fellow Bats Midge Purce, Lynn Williams, Kelley O'Hara, and Jenna Nighswonger. Add Brazil's Bruninha and Spain's Esther Gonzalez into the mix, and it could get complicated.
However, if this offseason has shown us anything, it's that Gotham has a plan. From GM Yael Averbuch West to Head Coach Juan Carlos Amorós, it's clear that this has been a coordinated effort to make Gotham one of the best professional soccer teams in the world. For a variety of reasons, Gotham has established itself as the place to be, whether that's through offering a hometown connection, a challenging style of play, increased competition, or familiar teammates. Gotham has truly set itself apart in free agency.
Averbuch West told The Athletic that she approached all of her pitches to potential signings not as a pitch, but as a conversation. By considering players as a whole and prioritizing what they're looking for, she has found the most success. Averbuch West puts her current players' agency first as well, stating that she cares about where the team finishes in the table at the end of the year and whether players would recommend playing for Gotham as the two most important metrics of success.
While taking the team from a last-place finish in 2022 to winning the championship in 2023 may seem like a big enough accomplishment, both Averbuch West and Amorós stated that their sixth-place regular season finish proves that they have room for improvement.
With these important new free agency acquisitions, a motivated front office, and a talented coaching staff, Gotham FC looks poised more than ever to solidify its place in NWSL history.