A Jersey Girl Dreams Big
Growing up in New Jersey, Sabrina Flores had one big dream: to become a professional soccer player. As a young player, she attended Sky Blue matches and imagined herself as one of the pros representing her home state. In 2019, Flores realized her dream. She was drafted out of the University of Notre Dame by Sky Blue FC in the fourth round. “It was incredibly humbling,” Flores told Jersey Sporting News about being drafted. “I now see myself living the dream I had when I was younger.” Although she has had her ups and downs, it still feels surreal for the 25 year old defender to actually be doing what she imagined for all those years. "I always envisioned a dream of playing pro and inspiring the community that I grew up in at the same time," Flores said.
Various iterations of the club now known as Gotham FC have existed throughout the years. The club was first founded in 2006 as Jersey Sky Blue, and went on to be part of prior women’s professional soccer leagues including the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). Sky Blue FC continued on with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in 2013, and in spring 2021 rebranded to NJ/NY Gotham FC.
We've gained more confidence in ourselves and are proud to follow through with the Gotham FC rebrand.
A Rebrand with a Purpose
Because Flores had such a deep connection to Sky Blue FC as her childhood hometown team, the news of the rebrand initially came as a shock. She now sees that the change has given a completely different life to a club that was previously struggling to find success. Flores explained that for so many years, the club tried to revamp. They brought in different coaches, changed locations, and tried to make the team a destination that players could proudly represent. “Growing up, Sky Blue was always Sky Blue!” Flores said. “It was weird to now say ‘Gotham,’ but we as players just had to trust in the process.”
In April 2021, the team emerged as the newly rebranded Gotham FC. This new image was meant to highlight not only their proximity to New York City, but shine a light on the team as an international destination for players from all walks of life. Flores was apprehensive about the rebrand in the beginning, but she saw that the name change also came with actions aimed at truly making the club a better place. With tapping into the New York City market, moving the games to Red Bull Arena, and engaging more with their local community, Flores sees a club that is putting action behind their words, and she is honored to be part of it. "We've gained more confidence in ourselves and are proud to follow through with the Gotham FC rebrand," Flores said. "We've come a long way, and I couldn't be more excited."
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) April 6, 2021
The Importance of Community
Gotham FC has been lauded throughout the league as a team that embraces their diversity. “We pride ourselves in having a diverse group of players,” Flores said. “You can see that just by looking at the roster.” But in addition to the names on the roster, Gotham FC is dedicated to making a real difference. As a club, they go out into the community to support various causes, including racial equality and social justice. “We want to walk the walk,” Flores said. "What we're trying to do for ourselves, we also want to do in the community." She highlighted the importance of trust between players and club management, and believes Gotham FC is doing a good job of following through with their decisions and actions.
Indeed, Gotham FC has been increasingly visible in the local communities of New Jersey and New York. Earlier this year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the team volunteered with SAGE Elder Care delivering food to seniors in the community.
On days off, we give back.
Our Player Community Outreach Committee spent the day volunteering with @SAGEeldercare delivering food to seniors in the community and as you can tell, we made some new friends. 🥺 pic.twitter.com/GFyoTl8ZyL
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) April 23, 2021
The month prior to that, the team along with members of their supporters group Cloud 9, volunteered with Caresparc Consulting COVID-19 Emergency Response Food Distribution Effort in partnership with Table to Table, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School COVID-19 Team, and the Greater Newark Conservancy. The team also partnered with Welcome to Chinatown during Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month, going into the city and supporting locally owned businesses and restaurants. On May 26, the team hosted the organization at the Red Bull Arena during a game to honor AAPI Heritage Month.
Flores explained that the club started a Player Community Outreach Committee run by the players with the goal of bringing positive impacts into their community. Flores highlighted how in addition to supporting minority owned businesses in the city, the players also run soccer clinics and mentorships for kids in underserved areas of New Jersey, including in the greater Newark area. These community initiatives have become a big part of the fabric of Gotham FC. “We’ve been doing initiatives like that, and it’s ingrained in our team culture now,” Flores said.
An International Mindset
Another unique aspect Flores sees in Gotham FC is not just that their roster has players of different ethnicities and nationalities, but that the players themselves have played soccer all around the world. “There are so many different minds, and so many different backgrounds,” Flores said. She explained that the club has players who have played all over the world, including in Japan, France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Ghana, and the United States. This diversity of perspective enables the club to broaden their outlook and knowledge of the game, and forces people to get along with different styles and soccer mindsets. She believes this is a key component of Gotham FC's creative style of play. "Over time, we've developed a really good awareness of how different players play, and play towards each other's strength and follow a game plan."
Flores herself spent time in 2019/2020 playing for Sevilla FC in Spain. In summing up her experience there compared to the NWSL, she described it as “completely different.” Flores does not believe that one was better than the other, but rather believes that the ideal soccer philosophy is a combination of European style play and American play. In Europe and Spain, Flores experienced a playing style that was “very technically focused,” especially when compared to a league like the NWSL which is much more focused on speed and physicality. “In the NWSL, the physical component takes over,” Flores explained. “There is more transitional play and more fast, powerful, strong players.” She appreciated the duality of her experience in Spain where she got to see more of the possession based technical style, and believes a combination of technical and physical is the best approach. “I think both styles have so much to give,” Flores said.
— Sevilla FC Femenino (@SevillaFC_Fem) July 31, 2019
In addition to her time in Spain, Flores has also been called to a couple of training camps for the Mexican Women’s National Team. Although she was born in New Jersey, she is eligible for the Mexican team through her father, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She explained that her twin sister Monica has had call ups to the Mexican National Team because she came up through their youth program, whereas Flores started with the youth program in the United States. “I just feel extremely grateful to have both opportunities,” Flores said. Although growing up she dreamed of representing the United States, her ultimate goal is to play at the highest level possible. She does not feel particularly aligned one way or the other, and would be grateful for any opportunity. “If I were to get called in by the Mexican National Team, I’d be gladly going,” Flores said. “It’s part of my culture, and I would be representing my family and who I am.”
It’s hard to have a dream of playing professionally, considering that what the majority of professional women’s soccer players make for a living is not sustainable.
A Platform for Change
The ability to have a platform as a professional athlete is extremely important to Flores. She tries to be present on social media and give back to her community in order to inspire others, especially those who might not have had the same opportunities that she had. She wants to use her platform to inspire not only the Hispanic community, but everyone. "I want to use my platform to inspire everyone regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, to give them resources, hopes, and dreams of achieving anything they want," Flores said. She explained that much of the time, the Hispanic community is in the minority, and many do not have the financial resources necessary to get into sports. “That’s just how things are,” Flores lamented. Part of her individual mission is to create and spread opportunity to the extent that she can by bringing soccer to different communities, including to girls who might not know what opportunities already exist for them. "I'm still in the process of this long journey of figuring out how I can give back and contribute, and really impact the Latina community," Flores said. "But I'm learning more every day on how I can do that, and taking little steps by putting myself out in the community."
“I would love to see more equal-access opportunities for players of different socioeconomic status and more intentional efforts to bring up those that aren’t the archetypical US stars.”
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) September 22, 2021
Flores feels fortunate that she is able to learn so much from her sister Monica who currently plays in Mexico and taps into that culture every day. “It’s a big blessing we have, to experience both and share in each other’s journeys,” Flores said. “We can see every day what differences there are for little girls growing up in Mexico versus the United States, and the difference between young players who have financial resources versus those who don’t have food to put on the table.” Flores sees how there are systems in place to filter out those who do not have parents that can drive them to practice all the time or pay to put them in youth sports. She is heartbroken to know that a lot of girls, either in Mexico or the United States, will not be able to continue playing because of financial reasons. She is constantly trying to figure out ways to help, whether it’s using her voice on social media, or speaking with others who are also putting in the work.
No More Side Hustles
One of the ways in which Flores uses her social media platform is to support the No More Side Hustles initiative of the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA). She does not see this issue as separate from the problem of financial opportunity at the youth level. “Even if you come from a wealthy background, it’s hard to have a dream of playing professionally, considering that what the majority of professional women’s soccer players make for a living is not sustainable,” Flores explained. “It either is temporary for a few years before getting a ‘real job,’ or you work a couple of jobs at once to even get by.” She explained that this lack of sustainable wages at the professional level trickles down to young girls who might dream of becoming a professional soccer player, because it is never presented as a realistic career opportunity. “I think it comes full circle with the whole system,” Flores said. “I feel extremely strongly about the No More Side Hustles initiative.”
Right now, Flores currently coaches young kids as her side hustle. She loves it, but explained that she should not have to do it in order to make a living. “We should have salaries that support us,” Flores said of players in the NWSL. “Women’s pay professionally is equally as important to the whole system,” Flores said, explaining that at the youth level it really is pay to play in the United States. She is dedicated to working with the NWSLPA to make those changes so the league can be something young girls can realistically dream about.
— Sabrina Flores (@Sflores317) September 27, 2021
The Future of Gotham FC
According to Flores, Gotham FC is a really special club. Despite the instability of 2021 with management and coaching changes, the core of the group is still the players, and that has remained. "Honestly, I love all the girls and all the fun activities we do - there’s so much joy!" Flores said. "We love spending time with each other and doing different events and things off the field." Flores recently joined a few other teammates in playing tennis on a recovery day, and posted about it on her social media. She was hesitant to single anyone out when asked who won. "I don't want to put anyone down, we have quite a few good athletes on our team!" Flores joked. She divulged that the champion of the day was teammate Nicole Baxter. "She's athletically gifted in all sports!" Flores said.
Flores has seen great strides for Gotham, and feels confident about the rest of the season and the future of the club over the next coming years. The players are all excited and proud to be part of it. Flores is grateful for the new coaching staff Scott Parkinson and Beverly Yanez and says the changes so far have been good. "We’ve always had a group of amazing girls, but things are hard when you don’t have stable leadership," Flores said. She also gives credit to new interim general manager Yael Averbuch West, who is a former player herself. "She’s a player’s manager," Flores explained. She sees West as a manager who knows what it’s like to be in their shoes as players, and understands that the coaching staff needs the players to be taken care of in order to have them perform to the best of their abilities. "Everyone is totally invested and bought in," Flores said. "I’m excited for what’s to come."
Although the team had a big drop in terms of mid-season results, their most recent win last Saturday has helped her feel excited about finishing off the season strong. The energy has changed since the arrival of Parkinson and Yanez. She feels it in the locker room and sees it in training. Gotham FC is making a real push for an NWSL championship with renewed energy. “That’s what our vision was with the rebrand at the beginning of the season,” Flores said. “There’s lots of work to do, but all the pieces are in place.”
Gotham FC has six games left to put the pieces together and make their final playoff push. Their next game is away against Racing Louisville, and can be streamed on Paramount+ domestically, and Twitch internationally.