Heading into Saturday night’s NWSL final between OL Reign and NJ/NY Gotham FC, there was one big narrative on the minds of many soccer fans — namely, that it would be the final game in the long and storied career of the legendary Megan Rapinoe. Rapinoe has been a mainstay of the USWNT for decades, and her honors also include winning the Ballon d’Or Féminin in 2019.
There’s a version of this championship game where Rapinoe put in one final performance for the ages, helping her team take home a trophy. You can never underestimate the power of narrative when it comes to sports, and this would certainly qualify. As it turns out, the soccer gods had other ideas, though — and Rapinoe left the game in the sixth minute after an injury that she feared was a torn Achilles tendon.
If all you were watching the game for was to see what Rapinoe might do, you may have been disappointed. If you stuck around, though — well, then you got to witness a championship game that was every bit as high-stakes and dramatic as you might want a championship game to be.
Going into the final minute of added time in the second half, Gotham FC had a 2-1 lead. Hold the lead and they’d complete a remarkable turnaround, going from last place in the NWSL last season to winning the league this season. And then, as the Reign’s attacking players made their way towards Gotham’s goal, Gotham FC goalkeeper Mandy Haught reached out and picked up the ball — and received a red card for improper contact with the ball outside of the penalty area.
Haugh left the pitch, but not before giving her jersey and gloves to midfielder Nealy Martin, who had to fill in in goal until a stoppage of play occurred so that Gotham FC’s backup keeper could enter the match. Given that Martin — who, again, is not a goalkeeper — had to immediately face a free kick just outside of the penalty area, tensions were high from the outset.
And yet: even a player down, Gotham FC’s defense held. When the final whistle blew, the players, staff and traveling supporters went wild.
It’s probably worth mentioning here that Rapinoe wasn’t the only storied USWNT player in her final match that night. Gotham FC’s Ali Krieger had also announced her retirement following the match — and she went out on the highest note possible.
Megan Rapinoe Announces Retirement After NWSL Season and World CupThe end of a legendary career is in sight
It’s also worth noting that, in a year that’s been disappointing for many of the New York metropolitan area’s sports teams, both Gotham FC and the New York Liberty made it to the finals of their respective leagues, with the former emerging as champions. And in the process, Gotham FC and OL Reign delivered one of the most thrilling finals you’re likely to see, regardless of the sport.