Gotham FC names Yael Averbuch West, former player and Montclair native, interim GM
Gotham FC has named former professional player and Montclair native Yael Averbuch West as its new interim general manager and head of soccer operations, the team announced Tuesday.
The appointment is one of three high-profile interim hires announced Tuesday morning to the club’s front office, as the professional women's soccer team ushers in a new era of leadership after the abrupt firing of its former GM last month.
While Averbuch West may be new to the club’s front office, her ties with the franchise run deep.
“I'm very excited about this role and look forward to supporting the continued success of Gotham FC on the field,” Averbuch West said in a statement. “This was my first professional club as a player and is my hometown club, so it's close to my heart. I can't wait to get to work."
The team also named Kristin Bernert, a sports executive with over a decade of experience in local markets, as the club's interim head of business operations. Stephanie Lee, the former general manager of the Utah Royals FC, will support Averbuch West in a role as interim assistant general manager.
Averbuch West replaces Alyse LaHue, was ousted from her post after three years with the team and after the undisclosed findings of a league investigation related to the National Women’s Soccer League’s anti-harassment policy.
Averbuch West has a storied history with professional women's soccer in the United States, particularly in the New Jersey area. She will be working closely with Lee and Bernert. Together, the three will continue the club’s legacy of having strong women in high-ranking leadership roles.
Each new executive brings a unique set of skills to help Gotham — formerly called Sky Blue — conclude its first season under its new identity. Earlier this year, the club announced a total brand transformation that included a new name and vision, as the team embraced its growing fan base in New Jersey and New York.
Unique set of skills
Averbuch West, who was born in Montclair, has had ties to Gotham since the club’s inception. She was drafted to the team in 2009, when the club was still known as Sky Blue and played in what was called Women's Professional Soccer. The league later morphed into National Women's Soccer League.
“Yael was our club’s first ever college draft pick, and ownership is delighted to welcome her back to the family,” Tammy Murphy, part owner and club chair, said in a statement. “She’s dedicated her life to playing and growing this sport and has excelled at every level. We’re confident she’ll continue her success with us and help further our transformation into one of the premier women’s soccer clubs in the world.”
In the team's inaugural year, Averbuch West led Sky Blue to win the WPS championship. She also made 26 appearances for the United States Women's National Team during her career and played for more than a decade for various clubs and overseas.
Averbuch West is also a member of the U.S. Soccer Athletes’ Council. In 2017, she helped create the NWSL Players Association, where she served as president until her retirement in 2019. One year later, she was named executive director and served as chairwoman of the association’s advisory board.
Averbuch West also founded and is the chief executive of the soccer training app Techne Futbol.
As interim assistant GM, Lee brings a wealth of knowledge about how to run a team. She served as general manager of the Utah Royals until December 2020, when the team was sold to an ownership group in Kansas City and relocated. Lee began her stint in professional women’s soccer in 2015, when she landed a job with the Seattle Reign after working as an intern, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Lee was one of the Utah Royal’s first hires when the team was established in 2017, the team said in announcing her departure last year. She joined the team as a managing director to help build the club from scratch and was promoted to general manager by the 2019 season, according to the team.
In 2020, one of Lee's biggest accomplishments was helping the NWSL resume competition in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic by organizing the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah. The tournament, held in a bubble format, marked the first professional team sports league to return to play in the United States, and concluded without a single positive COVID-19 result during play.
Bernert has more than a decade of experience working in high-profile sports industry roles. She worked for Madison Square Garden Sports for 10 years, where she rose to the role of executive vice president of operations and oversaw business operations for several sports organizations, including the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.
For six years, Bernert served as the senior vice president of operations for the WNBA’s New York Liberty. She had previous stints in leadership roles with the Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock, now known as the Dallas Wings, and also in the NBA, where she served as vice president of team marketing and business operations. In April, she co-founded the sports company, KB2 Sports.
“I’ve had the honor of leading New York’s most iconic sports franchises, and co-founded KB2 Sports with the mission of driving investment in women’s sports and female athletes to achieve equity in a very visible industry,” Bernert said in a statement. “Gotham FC is the epitome of the opportunity to do that given its location and very committed ownership.”
“The NWSL is growing by leaps and bounds, and I’m looking forward to helping accelerate progress in the near term and lay the groundwork on strategy for a long-term head of business operation,” she added.
The past three years for Gotham have been transformative.
The team has gone from being one of the bottom teams in rankings to one of the best. Under LaHue’s leadership, the club entered a new era that included the new name, a new stadium and new fan base.
And though Gotham was without a general manager for close to a month, the team has had an impressive 2021 season in the NWSL. The team currently ranks second in the league’s crowded standings, with 5 wins, 5 draws and 1 loss.
The team returns to action on Aug. 7, when they face North Carolina Courage at Red Bull Arena.
Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.