SAN DIEGO – Either OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe or Gotham FC’s Ali Krieger would walk off the field with the National Women’s Soccer League trophy and head into retirement.
Warrior got the trophy. Rapinoe suffered a heartbreaking end to her brilliant career when she hobbled off the field for the final time with an apparent rupture of her right Achilles tendon, which she suffered in the opening minutes.
World Cup winner Esther González scored the go-ahead goal in first-half stoppage time and Gotham FC survived a wild final minute to beat OL Reign on Saturday night in an NWSL championship game that was still in the opening minutes when Rapinoe finally limped off the field.
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“You don’t always have the perfect ending,” said Rapinoe, who was in good spirits afterward and wearing a hiking boot on her right foot. “I’ve had so many perfect endings, even just thinking back to 2019, that was the most perfect script you could ever write personally and as a team, exactly what it meant. All in all, I don’t find anything that negative about it,” although she joked that she was now just a normal person facing surgery and rehab.
At the 2019 World Cup in France, Rapinoe scored six goals, including a penalty in the final against the Netherlands. Her victory pose in the championship game became one of the most memorable images of the dominant U.S. run.
Rapinoe announced before this summer’s Women’s World Cup that she was retiring from the sport after a career that included two World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic bronze medal.
Krieger was also on the 2019 team as well as the U.S. World Cup team that won the title in 2015.
“I don’t think I could imagine a better ending,” Krieger said. “I just want to ride off into the sunset and enjoy it with my family, my friends, especially my kids 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.”
After a VAR review in stoppage time, Gotham goalkeeper Mandy Haught received a red card for denying an obvious scoring opportunity and was sent off, giving Reign the chance to equalize. While defender Nealy Martin took control of the goal – and had to put on the goalkeeper jersey and gloves – the Reign’s Rose Lavelle took a free kick just outside the penalty area, but it bounced off the wall off a Gotham player. Gotham was able to run out the clock and celebrated their first NWSL title with a wild celebration in midfield.
Rapinoe’s non-contact injury took some of the wind out of the crowd at San Diego State’s Snapdragon Stadium.
Rapinoe ran to Gotham’s Maitane Lopez, who was dribbling outside the penalty area, and suddenly went down in the third minute. After being on the ground for a few minutes, Rapinoe needed the help of two trainers for the long walk along an endline and then down the sideline to the Reign’s bench.
Krieger ran to her former U.S. Women’s National Team teammate and hugged her.
Rapinoe said it felt like someone had kicked her and she felt a “huge pop” in her Achilles tendon. She waved off a stretcher and then realized how long it was to walk back to the bank.
Krieger said she was “disappointed” for Rapinoe. “It is devastating to see one of the best players in the world withdraw due to an injury in the first five minutes of the game. To have that kind of preparation up until that moment, to have it from anyone, that was devastating because it changes the game. You want to play against the best players.
“I really took care of her,” Krieger said, adding that she believed Rapinoe injured her ankle. “I said, ‘Just knock it off, I’ll see you back out here in a few minutes. Then when I saw the substitute come on, it was obviously a different story. You must rejoin your team and mine immediately.’ Job. You have to rule that out somehow.”
Rapinoe did not believe her injury was caused by the field, which was still pockmarked from a San Diego State University football game a week earlier. The Reign defeated the San Diego Wave on a torn field Sunday night to advance.
With the score tied at 1 in first-half stoppage time, González, who helped Spain win the Women’s World Cup, slipped between two defenders and headed a perfect corner kick from Midge Purce into the corner of the net, out of the reach of Reign goalkeeper Claudia Dickey .
Purce also fed Lynn Williams in front of the net for the opening goal in the 24th minute.
The Reign equalized in the 29th minute when Lavelle dribbled in and beat Haught.