Gotham FC forward Crystal Dunn looks on during the second...

Gotham FC forward Crystal Dunn looks on during the second half of a soccer game against San Diego Wave FC in Harrison N.J. on Friday. Credit: Noah K. Murray

HARRISON, N.J.— It was an almost perfect homecoming.

Almost.

For the first time in her professional career, Crystal Dunn was essentially playing in her backyard — give or take a few miles — and had family and friends in the house.

Which made the experience delightful.

The only drawback? The result.

“We played a good game [but] it didn’t fall our way,” the Rockville Centre native said after she and her Gotham F.C. teammates lost to the San Diego Wave FC 1-0 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Friday night in the NWSL’s annual Challenge Cup game.

Alex Morgan’s header in the 88th minute was the game’s lone goal.

NJ/NY Gotham FC introduced Crystal Dunn and other key offseason signings at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center on Friday afternoon. Credit: Ed Quinn

The Challenge Cup pitted Gotham F.C., the defending league champions, against the Wave, who had the NWSL’s best regular season record in 2023.

Unlike years past, where the Cup was a season-long tournament, the game has become a one-off. With legitimate stakes for both the winning and losing teams since the Wave took home the Challenge Cup trophy plus $3,500 in prize money per player. Morgan earned an additional $2,000 for being the game’s Most Valuable Player.

“I think it’s really great,” Dunn said of the reconfigured Challenge Cup format. Despite the loss, every Gotham F.C. player received $2,200.

Dunn was not in the starting lineup, but when she was substituted into the game in the 65th minute for Katie Stengal, she was greeted by loud cheers by the 14,241 in attendance.

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“It really was great,” Dunn said. “It’s really a special place to be. Obviously I wish the game went a different way, but honestly that’s just sports and we just build on it.”

And, truth be told, there was much to like from Gotham’s perspective.

Even though the game was tied 0-0 at halftime, Gotham had the better of play in the first half. Gotham had a 7-2 advantage in total shots in the opening 45 minutes, including a 2-1 lead in shots on goal.

The most dangerous of which was midfielder Delanie Sheehan’s redirection past Wave goaltender Kailen Sheridan in the 29th minute that went wide of the net.

While not nearly as busy as her counterpart, Gotham goalkeeper Cassie Miller punched away Jaedyn Shaw’s chance in the 32nd minute.

For the game, Miller made two saves and yielded only Morgan’s header.

“Goodness gracious, what a debut for Gotham,” forward Midge Purce said about Miller. “She saved us multiple times.”

Gotham finished the game having out-attempted the Wave, 11-7, but San Diego had more shots on goal, 3-2.

“The football was good,” Purce said. “We did a good job building and I thought that we did fantastic switching the point of attack and our team defending was good.”

The game was broadcast on Amazon Prime.

Prior to the game, Gotham F.C. held an hour-long roundtable discussion about equal pay in women’s sports. Among the dignitaries who participated in the round table were league commissioner Jessica Burman; Gotham F.C. co-owners Emily Tisch Sussman and Carolyn Tisch Blodgett; Gotham F.C. general manager Yael Averbuch; Allison Zelman, the Chief of Staff for the Department of Labor; and Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.

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