Good morning. It’s Friday. Today we’ll meet the executive in charge of the one New York area team that still has a chance at a championship.
Mary WittenbergCredit…Devon Cafaro
If you care about the Mets or the Yankees, this was a season you’d probably prefer to forget.
Maybe you’re holding out hope for the Jets, who at 3-3 are in next-to-last place in the A.F.C. East. The Giants, at 1-5, are in last place in the N.F.C. East.
And the New York Liberty were eliminated in the W.N.B.A. finals on Wednesday.
That leaves Gotham F.C. in the N.W.S.L., the National Women’s Soccer League, which went from last place last season to sixth place this season, good enough for a spot in the playoffs. Gotham F.C. is scheduled to play the North Carolina Courage on Sunday.
The playoffs will be a finale for one of Gotham F.C.’s stars. Its captain, Ali Krieger, announced that she would retire when the season ends.
She has fans well beyond New York: Megan Rapinoe, who played with Krieger on the U.S. women’s national teams in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, wore an “Ali Krieger Fan Club” T-shirt before her own final regular-season game with the Seattle-based OL Reign on Sunday. So did Rapinoe’s fiancée, Sue Bird, a retired star with the Seattle Storm in the W.N.B.A., who was sitting courtside at the Liberty’s game that afternoon.
Meg Linehan, who covers women’s soccer for The Athletic, told me that replacing Krieger would be difficult because she had meant so much to Gotham F.C. both as a player on the field and as a leader in the clubhouse. The team is counting on newcomers like Esther González, a 2023 FIFA World Cup champion, and Lynn Williams, an Olympic medalist who played with the Courage from 2017 to 2021.
Off the field, Gotham F.C. faces the perennial challenge of getting attention — or getting more attention — in the crowded New York market, especially after playing for the last few seasons at Red Bull Arena, about 12 miles from Times Square in Harrison, N.J.
Can Gotham F.C. figure out how it fits into New York? That question came up as I spoke with Mary Wittenberg, who was hired in August as the team’s president. She is a former president and chief executive of New York Road Runners and a former race director of the New York City Marathon. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Gotham F.C. didn’t go from worst to first this year. It only went from worst to sixth.
The focus on the field was to go from last to making the playoffs. Now that we’re in the playoffs, it’s a reset, right? Anybody can win it.
We’re counting ourselves as serious competitors, so we’ll see where we end up. But it’s already a big win to go from last to the playoffs. So we don’t look at this as sixth place.
And we’re not done yet.
What about attendance?
It’s interesting that the legacy teams like Gotham F.C. have been growing incrementally, while the brand-new teams in Los Angeles and San Diego have jumped to the front. They now have 20,000 people going to matches.
We grew 42 percent year over year in the season that just ended, but the base is lower. If our average is 6,300 or so, the average in San Diego is about 20,000 and about the same in Los Angeles.
You said in August that women’s soccer was at an inflection point. What did you mean, and what is the next level for women’s soccer?
I think that women’s soccer for a long time had very big moments, like the 1999 Women’s Cup. That was the first big World Cup at home where Americans became aware of this amazing national team, and again in 2015 and 2019. And in the last two years, the growth has been unprecedented in the league.
That’s part of a new momentum where women’s professional sports, at least in soccer and in the W.N.B.A., are really becoming a sustainable, visible presence.
What has lagged has been the fandom and the commercial proposition. The fandom is now catching up. The commercial proposition is what’s next.
When did you meet Ali Krieger?
I’ve known of Ali Krieger since probably 2012 or so, following her as an athlete, and when she won the World Cup in 2015 and 2019.
I met her personally for the first time literally the day I was starting. I wasn’t even announced yet, and the first place I went was to meet the players. Ali’s the captain and immediately was warm and welcoming and said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Last week we were at the New York Stock Exchange, talking about how she has changed the game. Here she is, 15 or 20 years into her career — the very, very end of her career — and she’s thanking our coach because she feels seen, she feels valued.
How has she changed the sport?
She and her generation of women athletes advocated for equal pay, especially at the women’s national team level. They had to risk their careers for that.
She’s been a fierce advocate and role model for the L.G.B.T.Q. community because she lived authentically to who she was early on, when that wasn’t as commonly accepted or shared.
Prepare for showers throughout the day and into the evening with temperatures topping out in the mid-60s and dropping to the upper 50s.
In effect until Nov. 1 (All Saints Day).
The latest New York news
Struck by grief, the governor pushes on: Gov. Kathy Hochul was about to begin the second day of a wartime trip to Israel when she learned that her 87-year-old father, John P. Courtney, had died overnight in Florida after an apparent brain hemorrhage.
Housing shortage: An analysis finds the city has lost more than 100,000 homes because smaller apartments have been combined into larger ones.
Crypto crackdown: Continuing a crackdown on cryptocurrency companies, the New York attorney general has accused three major players in the digital asset industry of lying to investors and concealing losses in a $1 billion fraud scheme, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday.
Judge removed: A judge in upstate New York was removed from the bench on Thursday, eight years after pointing a loaded gun at a Black man who appeared in his courtroom, New York’s highest court announced.
Suspect arrested: The man suspected of pushing a woman into a moving subway train in Manhattan was arrested in Newark. He had a history of criminal charges, mental illness and homelessness.
Rikers: The speaker of the New York City Council, Adrienne Adams, announced on Thursday the latest step in the city’s nearly decade-old push to shut the Rikers Island jail complex, long regarded as one of the worst lockups in the country.
Affordable housing with a string attached: A developer that wants to build a casino near the United Nations is promising 510 apartments at below-market-rate rents, but it’s a package deal — no casino license, no affordable housing.
Here’s what we’re watching: The international correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman discusses the hostage crisis in Israel, and the politics reporter Astead Herndon explores Kamala Harris’s vice presidency on “The New York Times Close Up With Sam Roberts.” At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. [CUNY TV].
Vale of cashmere
I was in Prospect Park’s Vale of Cashmere one morning when a young man with binoculars rushed up to a gaggle of bird-watchers.
Apologizing for his late arrival, he said he had gotten home late the previous night after going to the movies.
“What did you see?” one of the birders asked.
“The new ‘Little Mermaid,’” he replied.
“How was it?” someone else asked.
“Well,” the young man said in a mock serious tone, “I can tell you that they got the feather patterning of the northern gannet all wrong.”
— Bruce E. Cory
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
I’m going to take a long weekend. See you again next week. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Bernard Mokam, Claire Fahy and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].