Ali Krieger, Gotham win NWSL championship after Megan Rapinoe’s career ends with an injury

In the opening minutes, Megan Rapinoe hobbled off the pitch with an apparent Achilles injury in a heartbreaking end to her career.

NJ/NY Gotham defender Ali Krieger holds the trophy after NJ/NY Gotham defeated OL Reign 2-1 in the NWSL Championship soccer game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in San Diego.

NJ/NY Gotham defender Ali Krieger holds the trophy after NJ/NY Gotham defeated OL Reign 2-1 in the NWSL Championship soccer game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Either Megan Rapinoe of the OL Reign or Ali Krieger of Gotham FC was going to walk off the pitch and into retirement with the National Women’s Soccer League trophy.

Krieger got the trophy. Rapinoe got a heartbreaking end to her brilliant career as she limped off the field for the last time with an apparent torn right Achilles tendon suffered in the first few minutes.

World Cup winner Esther González scored the go-ahead goal on a header in first-half stoppage time and Gotham FC survived a wild final minute to beat OL Reign 2-1 on Saturday night in a NWSL championship match where Rapinoe hobbled off the pitch for good.

“You don’t always get to have the perfect ending,” said Rapinoe, who was in good spirits afterward and wearing a walking boot on her right foot. “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 she joked that she’s now just a normal person facing surgery and rehab.

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe (right) stays down after an injury as teammates midfielder Rose Lavelle (16) and midfielder Jess Fishlock, center, check on her during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer game against NJ/NY Gotham, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
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At the 2019 World Cup in France, Rapinoe scored six goals, including a penalty in the final against the Netherlands. Her victory pose at 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 stepping away from the game after a career that included two World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic bronze.

Krieger was also on that 2019 team as well as the U.S. World Cup team that won the title in 2015.

“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.”

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Following a VAR review in stoppage time, Gotham goalie Mandy Haught was issued a red card for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and sent off, giving the Reign a chance to tie it. With defender Nealy Martin taking over in goal — and having to put on the goalie jersey and gloves — the Reign’s Rose Lavelle took a free kick just outside the box but it bounced off a Gotham player along the wall. Gotham was able to run out the clock and marked its first NWSL title with a wild celebration near midfield.

The non-contact injury to Rapinoe took some of the wind out of the crowd at San Diego State’s Snapdragon Stadium.

Rapinoe broke toward Maitane Lopez of Gotham, who was dribbling outside the penalty area, and suddenly went down in the third minute. After staying on the ground for a few minutes, Rapinoe needed help from two trainers for the long walk along one end line and then down the sideline to the Reign’s bench.

Krieger ran over and hugged her former teammate from the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Rapinoe said it felt like someone kicked her and she felt “a huge pop” in her Achilles. She waved off a stretcher and then realized just what a long walk it was back to the bench.

Krieger said she was “gutted” for Rapinoe. “It’s devastating to see one of the best players in the world have to step out because of injury in the first five minutes of the game. To have such a buildup to this moment, to have her of anyone, that was devastating, because it does change the game. You want to play against the best players.

“I was really upset for her,” said Krieger, who added that she thought Rapinoe hurt her ankle. “I said, ‘Just wrap it up and I’ll see you back out here in a couple minutes.’ Then when I saw the sub come on, obviously it was a different story. Immediately you have to switch back on to your team and my job. You have to kind of shut that out.”

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe (right) speaks with NJ/NY Gotham defender Ali Krieger as Rapinoe comes off the field after an injury during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Rapinoe didn’t think her injury was caused by the field that was still pockmarked from a San Diego State football game a week earlier. The Reign beat the San Diego Wave on a torn-up field on 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 by Midge Purce into the corner of the net out of the reach of Reign goalie Claudia Dickey.

Purce also fed Lynn Williams in front of the net for the opening goal in the 24th minute.

The Reign tied it in the 29th minute when Lavelle dribbled in and beat Haught.

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