Rapinoe exits early as Krieger and team win championship

Ali Krieger with the National Women’s Soccer League championship trophy. Screenshot via NWSL.

One last time, two soccer icons took to the field in San Diego Nov. 11 as Seattle’s OL Reign faced New York’s Gotham FC at Snapdragon Stadium.

In what was the absolutely last, concluding and final end to their respective careers in professional soccer, following more than a few “farewell” games, Megan Rapinoe limped off the pitch and Ali Krieger raised the National Women’s Soccer League championship trophy.

And Krieger’s teammates raised her up in victory as well. 

History will record World Cup winner Esther González as scoring the go-ahead goal for New York on a header in first-half stoppage time, and that Gotham beat the Reign 2-1. 

But what true women’s soccer fans will take away from this clash of the champions is watching the pink-haired legend who won two World Cups, an Olympic gold medal and a bronze inexplicably fall to the ground in the third minute. 

As Maitane Lopez of Gotham was dribbling the ball outside the penalty area, Rapinoe ran toward her and suddenly went down. After laying there for a few minutes, Rapinoe refused the stretcher and accepted help from two trainers for the long walk along one end line and then down the sideline to the Reign’s bench.

Rapinoe said later she realized too late how long that walk would be, and told reporters it felt like someone kicked her and she felt “a huge pop” in her Achilles. 

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

“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,” said Rapinoe. 

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

“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,” said Krieger, who told reporters she was “gutted” for Rapinoe. “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.”

Krieger said she thought Rapinoe hurt her ankle. “I was really upset for her,” she said, and shared part of their conversation. “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.”

Rapinoe announced that she was stepping away from the game for good before this past summer’s Women’s World Cup. At the 2019 World Cup in France, Rapinoe scored six goals, including a penalty in the final against the Netherlands. When she posed with her arms outstretched in victory pose at that championship game, it was an image that conveyed just how dominant was Team USA.

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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