SAN DIEGO – Spanish striker Esther Gonzalez headed in the winner to secure Gotham FC’s first National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Championship title 2-1 over OL Reign, as veteran Megan Rapinoe’s final career match came to a bitter end.
Forward Lynn Williams got the scoring started for the New Jersey/New York club, as Gotham capped a Cinderella run through the postseason only a year after they finished at the bottom of the table for the top-flight American league.
The showdown between Gotham and Reign marked the highly anticipated final match of twice World Cup winner Rapinoe’s career but the retirement party came to an abrupt end as the Seattle forward exited minutes into the affair with an injury.
A superb solo effort from Rapinoe’s World Cup team mate Rose Lavelle got Reign on the board in the 29th minute but Seattle were unable to convert on a series of second-half efforts in their third appearance in the NWSL title match.
“We stuck to our plan, we committed to each other… and we know how good we can be,” said Gotham defender Ali Krieger according to Reuters.
The raucous affair at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium got off to a grim start as Rapinoe went down in the third minute and Krieger ran to embrace her former US national team mate before she could exit the pitch.
Gotham forward Midge Purce beat three Seattle defenders down the right side before sending a perfect cross to Williams, who slipped the opening goal past Reign keeper Claudia Dickey from the center of the box in the 24th minute.
Midfielder Lavelle answered five minutes later, charging at the Gotham keeper Mandy Haught and sending one into the back of the net with a superb left-footed strike.
Gotham was denied twice in the 38th minute as Purce hit the left post and midfielder Delanie Sheehan hit the crossbar in rapid succession.
Reign had the chance to take the lead as Lavelle tried a through ball but striker Jordyn Huitema was caught offside five minutes later.
Months after she hoisted the World Cup trophy with Spain, Gonzalez powered a sublime header past the Reign keeper off a corner from Purce in first-half stoppage time and pumped her fist in celebration.
The final moments of the match were drenched in drama when Haught shown a red card for putting her hands on the ball outside the box and Gotham midfielder Nealy Martin put on the goalkeeper´s jersey as her team were out of substitutions.
Martin’s team mates blocked a free kick by Lavelle and Gotham erupted in celebration as Reign’s frantic final efforts went unrewarded. Purce took MVP honours for the match for her two assists.
“We had so much experience to the very last game and we were so, so excited to just come out here and enjoy the atmosphere… and enjoy each other one last time,” said Krieger in on-field remarks. “I’m so happy we can go home with this trophy.”
“You don´t always get to have the perfect ending,” said Rapinoe.
“I’ve had so many perfect endings, even just thinking back to 2019, that was the most perfect whole script you could ever write personally and as a team, just what it meant. On balance,
“I don’t think anything that negative about it,” although Rapinoe joked that she’s now just a normal person facing surgery and rehab.
“I don´t think I could dream of a better ending for myself,” Krieger said. “I just want to ride off into the sunset and enjoy this with my family and friends and kids, most importantly, and my teammates.
“My back hurts, my calves hurt. I love it so much and it´s so much fun. But it´s time. This is the perfect ending for me.”