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HARRISON, N.J. -- From last October, everything has seemingly come up NJ/NY Gotham FC in the NWSL. The club picked up their first-ever playoff win in the league, won their first championship and then signed four of the most sought-after free agents to earn the moniker of super team heading into the 2024 season. Friday, though, will be the first opportunity for Gotham to prove their credentials as the team to beat in the NWSL Challenge Cup, where they will host the San Diego Wave for each team's first chance at silverware this season.

Gotham have a 2023's sixth-place finish in the regular season -- not their championship -- as the measuring stick for their 2024 success, but expectations are very high for a team boasting seven U.S. women's national team players. Simply put, it's a team that most onlookers believe should not just compete, but win trophies and so it feels like the team needs to make a statement in the Challenge Cup matchup.

The team is taking a deceptively cautious approach, one that most others around the league are probably also taking -- the one-day-at-a-time strategy.

"We work every single day to be better, to get ready to win the next game and that's our target," Juan Carlos Amoros, the reigning NWSL Coach of the Year who led Gotham to the championship after just their first season in charge, said at a press conference on Thursday. "Our target this year, today, is … tomorrow."

Admittedly, there's still work to do for Gotham. The seven USWNT players that headline the super team missed the majority of preseason to compete for the U.S. at the Concacaf W Gold Cup, which they ended up winning. They have just three training sessions under their belts with Gotham before Friday's match, which poses its own challenges for newcomers like Crystal Dunn.

"The reality is, when you're full in with the national team, it is very hard to stay connected to your club team at all times," Dunn said. "Obviously you're getting updates but at the same time, you're preparing for a match and it's not always easy … Me, [Tierna Davidson] and [Emily] Sonnett and Rose [Lavelle] are the new players so we were almost in this different boat of, 'When we come back, we almost feel like we're still getting integrated.'"

Amoros and company relied on their depth to get through preseason, which was a successful experience that bodes well for the head coach's tactical vision. Gotham traveled to Colombia to compete in The Women's Cup, which featured Racing Louisville as well as local sides America de Cali and Deportivo Cali, and they came out with a preseason trophy. That showing might be a marker of Gotham's credentials in the 2024 NWSL season, but it also just makes the target on their back bigger.

Despite Amoros' modest approach, the team is not shying away from the perceptions outsiders have of them -- and they have of themselves.

"I think the work that [general manager] Yael [Averbuch West] did in the offseason and the free agents that she brought in and the roster that she's built, in my opinion, sets a very high expectation for this group," veteran defender Kelley O'Hara said. "I think it's one that I enjoy and I think that Juan does, too."

The one thing that the returning USWNT stars can offer that might provide immediate rewards, Amoros argues, is a winning mentality that's fresher than ever after lifting the Gold Cup on Sunday. The head coach's humble strategy is a disguise for his goals for 2024, which are loftier than winning -- it's the objective of winning on your own terms.

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"What we want to be is to be a team that is recognized for the work," he said. "From when I started, I think we, we create an environment and style of play that the players enjoy playing, that are going to make the fans enjoy watching it."

He will not be the only ideologue on the touchline on Friday. San Diego Wave head coach Casey Stoney is focused on perfecting her side's tactical approach as they aim for more success in 2024.

"It's about building our style even more," she said. "I think if we've got more of the ball, more control of the game and larger periods, we've got more chance of winning so we tried to build that out in this preseason."

It is naturally in service of the tangible goal of winning titles, something that the Wave are already building a decent habit of as they begin their third season in the NWSL. They won the shield last year and made it to the semifinals of the playoffs, and admittedly "weren't happy" with falling short of the championship. Boasting American soccer's most prominent rising star in 19-year-old attacker Jaedyn Shaw as well as talent across the pitch including Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, the Wave are arguably the team most well-positioned to give Gotham a run for their money. They are not dancing around the matter, either.

Their goal this season, quite simply? "Winning all three" trophies, according to Alex Morgan, who does not exactly find Gotham's super team label to be all that intimidating.

"Every single team is a competitor," she said. "Regardless of the amount of national team players or internationals or what have you, what matters is how a team plays together on the field so obviously, they have a lot of players that they picked up in the offseason. I feel like every team did. We added some great players that will make a huge impact for us this year so I just don't see it as any different than any other team."

It also helps when you just finished spending several weeks competing alongside several members of the opposition team.

"We were just playing with like half their team," Shaw quipped. "I feel like we're ready to play."

It means Friday's game, viewed as the NWSL season kickoff in a way, is full of intrigue, and arguably sets the tone for the season ahead as a showcase between the two teams that might just be the frontrunners to win the championship.

"We know we're playing against a good side," Stoney said. "We're a good side. I hope it's a great advert for the women's game and it kicks off the NWSL season the way we want it to go. It's the most competitive league in the world and I think everyone will see that [Friday]."