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Months before NJ/NY Gotham FC secured their first playoff berth in two years and went on to win their first NWSL Championship, a few branches of the club's staff began plotting an ambitious recruitment strategy in entirely routine circumstances.

"We have an ongoing scouting database and an ongoing list of players who our coaches think would be particularly good fits for our team," Gotham general manager Yael Averbuch West told CBS Sports. (Disclosure: Averbuch West is the wife of CBS Sports Golazo Network host Aaron West.) The group involved with compiling this list take part in a weekly call to discuss the roster, constantly evaluating areas of improvement with the club's tactical vision in mind.

The habitual process delivered extraordinary results, all with a few weeks to spare before preseason. Gotham spent the first days of the new year welcoming not one or two, but four of the most-sought after players in the NWSL's second free agency class -- Women's World cup winners Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett. It is a remarkable haul for any club, let alone a club that has historically been in the bottom half of the league's table before winning the 2023 championship. It is especially impressive considering the NWSL's somewhat restraining roster rules, but Averbuch West is adamant that Gotham did not need to take an extraordinary strategy to navigate the salary cap -- or that the incomings are a sign of a new approach to recruitment. Instead, it required a holistic approach to sell prospective players on the overall value of joining a team on the rise.

"All of the moves we're making and everything we're doing is part of a larger strategy that we started last offseason when we set out to redefine who Gotham FC is," Averbuch West said.

Playing the long game

Averbuch West sets the beginning of Gotham's ambitious timeline at the start of 2023, her first full year as the general manager and the first season under coach Juan Carlos Amoros. The on-field approach was to build a team that played a style the coaching staff describes as organized chaos.

"There's the aspect of organization and structure and systematic movements and then there's the freedom," Averbuch West said. "It is really important to us that we're an exciting team to watch."

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Gotham began that mission with a headline-making acquisition that January -- Lynn Williams in a trade with the Kansas City Current. She scored seven goals and won a spot on the U.S. women's national team roster for last year's Women's World Cup, but a big name was only part of the team's strategy. Averbuch West said Gotham aim to build a squad with high-profile players and talent "that not that many people know but we want the world to know," and exemplifying that was last year's NWSL Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger. She was drafted as a forward but eventually excelled as a wingback and made her way into the USWNT's player pool by year's end.

Still, there was room for improvement and before the NWSL's free agency list dropped in September, Gotham had a catalog of players they wanted to target. The group of prospective targets is the brainchild of Averbuch West's team, Amoros' coaching staff, and a group of seven to 10 contractors who work on scouting and analytics.

"We were very pleasantly surprised to see a number of players who have been pinpointed by our scouts and analysts and coaches as players who fit the profile of certain needs we see moving forward," she said. "That started well before this free agency list came out and that will continue beyond and well into this year and into next season's free agency class."

The high-profile quartet that joined the club this week ultimately filled different needs but all had an easy role to adopt in Gotham's organized chaos. The next step was to convince them all to sign up within the structure of the NWSL's roster rules.

More than just monetary value

Gotham's offseason business so far is arguably unprecedented in the NWSL, especially in the league's young free agency era. Before the deals were announced, many questioned how the reigning champions would be able to complete the ambitious plan without an update to the league's roster rules, which finally became public during Gotham's busy week of announcements. Each team now has $2.75 million to work with and no longer has the option to purchase allocation money, but the figure is still a sizable increase from the $1.375 million salary cap and $600,000 in allocation money available to them in 2023.

The increased funds are likely a leading factor for Gotham's ability to complete these deals and might be something other teams take advantage of throughout the offseason. The Houston Dash are one such example after they made free agent Maria Sanchez the league's highest-paid player, but Averbuch West insists they did not have a pool of other resources lying around for this week's acquisitions.

"If I were to guess, we're somewhere in the middle of the pack," she said when discussing allocation money. "We don't have anything that would be an outlier in terms of the amount of money we're working with. I think we're working with a similar amount of money to most of the teams in the league so we, in approaching our strategy at the beginning of last year, have spent the money we needed to spend to bring the best players. We're not saving money for later. We're not trying to max out every single dollar. We're trying to do it in a really smart way."

The strategy, in part, is to get as much bang for their buck as they can. Averbuch West credits assistant general manager Nathan Goldberg Crenier for his skillset as a statistics major at Harvard University and describes him as "truly genius in terms of how we can optimize" the salary cap. The other part of it is focusing on every other part of the player experience.

"I think people see free agency and immediately assume players will look and see where they can get the biggest paychecks and that's just where they want to go and that's not always the case," she said. "The first question we ask in every player meeting and we will continue to ask is: 'What are the most important things to you in approaching this next stage of your career?' And what I'll say is that not one of the players we spoke to said, 'my salary.'"

Averbuch West also believes Gotham have an advantage in terms of geography. The club is located in the New York metropolitan area, something that increases players' ability to network, build their personal brands and ultimately bring in additional income. The club also successfully sold their new signings on the on-field intangibles.

"It's obviously important and players need to feel valued and need to be compensated appropriately but the most important things to the players we talked to always had to do with improving, being held to high standards, playing alongside other great players, being on a winning team with a good culture," Averbuch West said. "And those are things we genuinely feel we're doing a great job of building."

Perfecting organized chaos

Gotham's sudden transformation from worst place in 2022 to champions in 2023 feels like an appropriate launching pad for recruiting four USWNT stars, but their sixth place finish in the regular season suggested room for improvement and the team was naturally going to find ways to fill unoccupied roles to execute their vision.

The most obvious gap to fill was the one previously occupied by Ali Krieger, the recently-retired fellow World Cup winner who played center back in the final matches of her career. Davidson was a perfect fit to slot in next to Maitane Lopez since both are comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Gotham were looking for "somebody with really important experience and leadership quality and who fits the profile that our team plays, which means you have to be really comfortable on the ball, really comfortable defending in space, reading the line, playing a high line," the general manager said. "Tierna Davidson is almost a perfect profile fit. We've been specifically seeking a left-footed, left-sided center back and I mean, what better player could pop up on the free agency list than Tierna Davidson?"

Averbuch West said that the 25-year-old Davidson also possesses the leadership qualities that Krieger exudes, as does New York native Dunn. In a sense, Dunn was a dream signing for Gotham considering her local ties, but her on-field profile also allows Gotham to boost their attack after underperforming at times in that department last season.

"I feel really passionately about bringing players home, who are from this area and grew up and developed their careers here and then have gone off to all different corners of the globe to pursue their professional career," she said. "The energy she brings, the versatility she brings -- Crystal is such an intelligent player in terms of where to find spaces on the field and the way our team plays in the attack and the freedom that our coaches set up for players, I think, is a really wonderful fit for a player like Crystal, who will find the gaps and connect and work within the spaces … She's meant to be part of the fabric of our club in so many ways, in my opinion having known her over the years."

Lavelle's credentials as one of the world's top creative midfielders also speak for themselves -- and nearly provided a cautionary tale for Gotham two months ago.

"You don't need to say much about Rose Lavelle, except to rewatch the championship game. I would say Rose nearly destroyed us," Averbuch West said. "We play a game with the ball and that requires players to move freely. I've, for a long time, [been] thinking about imagining Rose with the threats that we have in our front line, thinking about Rose being able to set up those threats and play with those players. I think everyone's in for quite a treat."

Last but not least comes defensive midfielder Sonnett, who Averbuch West said will lead the organization of Gotham's chaos.

"I said this to her when we spoke during the free agency process and she was working through her decision, I said, 'You might not know it but you're a very New Jersey person,'" the New Jersey native revealed. "This level of sarcasm and wittiness and grit. She's super competitive in a way I think is really important. She knows what it takes to win and to hold everyone else around her accountable. She visibly shows it with her body language. She also is, at the right times, very composed and very thoughtful and maintains the structure and the discipline that we also need for our system of play."

The people-first ethos

Averbuch West insists that on-field performance is only one half of how Gotham measure success at the end of every season. They also gauge player experience, something that feels true to the general manager's experience as a retired player and the former executive director of the NWSL Players Association.

"We have two success metrics every year that we've laid out for ourselves -- one is where we land in the table, which is indicative of the body of work of the season, and we want to have sustainable success and be at the top of the table every single year," she said. "The other one is the percent of players who would recommend Gotham to friends in the league."

Word of mouth has spread quickly on Gotham's approach with Averbuch West and Amoros in leadership roles. In separate interviews with CBS Sports, both Dunn and Davidson said they were impressed with the team's culture and the way players bought into the reigning NWSL Coach of the Year's vision so quickly as well as Amoros' detailed instructions and individualized attention.

"Juan, in every conversation he has with players, talks about the human element," she said. "We're people and we take care of our people, and we want to be a place where people feel like they can be successful and feel like they're getting better … I was joking with our coaches the other day. Sometimes we bring players into training who are not even being considered for spots, we need them for numbers, they're local players and our coaches are coaching them and giving them feedback and sitting with them after training, going through video and I'm like, 'Guys, we have a roster of players who are on contract here!'"

She feels that Gotham is not for everyone, much like living in the New York metropolitan area is not for everyone. 

"If players want to be guaranteed time, they want an easy, sunny place, just an easier take at this," she said, they may need to pick another destination. "We do want to be a place for a certain type of player with certain ambitions, and if we can be the destination for players who think like that and want to play in the style that we want to play."

The approach reflects Averbuch West's previous professional experiences, but it is also in line with her current role as a general manager. After learning the ins and outs of the job and speaking to those with experience in the position, she decided that pitching Gotham's overall value -- not just the money they can offer -- would be their strongest selling point.

"I think that our goal has always been, from a sporting perspective: Can we be a place where players want to play enough where that piece or thing is not their first consideration?," she said. "Can you be a place where a player would be willing to take, for lack of a better word, a pay cut to play for a club they believe in? And I think it's balancing out with showing players their value."