The 2024 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicked off Friday night as San Diego Wave FC faced NJ/NY Gotham FC in New Jersey. The two teams were pitted against each other in the newly reformatted UKG NWSL Challenge Cup. While the competition was previously a league cup involving all of the top flight teams, organizers recently altered the contest to involve just two clubs.

Gotham FC qualified for the 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup after being crowned league champions last season. Wave FC, on the other hand, previously won the 2023 NWSL Shield. The revised competition is now essentially a super cup match, similar to England’s Community Shield or Spain’s Supercopa.

Alex Morgan heads home the winning goal for San Diego late in the NWSL Challenge Cup final

Both clubs stuck to their specific defensive plans throughout the match and limited scoring opportunities for their opponents. As a result, there was only one goal recorded in the game. United States women’s national team star Alex Morgan netted the game-winning goal in the 88th minute for San Diego.

The legendary American forward only entered the fray as a second-half substitute. Teammate Savannah McCaskill picked out Morgan with a perfectly placed corner kick in front of the Gotham goal. Morgan easily headed the ball beyond the diving goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the net. It was her 28th goal in just 46 total matches with San Diego.

Due to scoring the lone goal in the game, Morgan was awarded as the 2024 UKG NWSL Challenge Cup Most Valuable Player. The striker collected a $2,000 bonus for netting the award. After the match, Morgan told reporters that the pass was so perfect that she had to score the goal. “The ball came straight to me, so I knew that I couldn’t mess it up,” said Morgan.

UKG, an American tech company, also provided each player on the two rosters with additioanl prize money. Gotham players received $2,200 each, while the winning San Diego squad earned $3,500 each for their triumph.

Wave FC set for ownership change as billionaire announces sale

San Diego’s victory came on the same day as the current club owner, Ron Burkle, announced that he was selling the team. The billionaire previously helped create the club in 2021 by paying a $2 million expansion fee. Despite just three years since the move, Burkle is now selling his club for a total price of $113 million. It is the most expensive deal in NWSL history.

NWSL’s regular season is set to start on Saturday, March 16th. Kansas City Current will host Portland Thorns in the opening match of the 2024 campaign. Three other matches are also scheduled for Saturday as well, before two games are set to be played the following day.

Both Challenge Cup clubs will not start their regular seasons until the following week. San Diego is set to host the Current on Saturday, March 23rd. Gotham FC, on the other hand, will face Portland in Oregon on Sunday, March 24th. These two matchups are set to be broadcasted on ION and ESPN2 respectively.

Photo credits: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire.