The National Women’s Soccer League couldn’t have scripted a better championship game matchup.
OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe and Gotham FC’s Ali Krieger will face off in the final professional match for both of the veteran stars on Saturday night in San Diego.
The two-time World Cup winners are both retiring after long club careers. An NWSL title has eluded both of them so far.
"With Ali, we've been through so much together. We've played in the biggest games together, played in world championship games together while the president was tweeting at us, so I feel in this moment we're just happy to be together," Rapinoe said. “I think we both wish each other so well. We're so happy and proud of each other.”
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.
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.
Krieger was also on that team, which elicited reaction tweets from former President Donald Trump over whether the United States would visit the White House if it won the title. The Americans won and did not visit the White House.
Both players were also on the U.S. World Cup team that won the title in 2015.
Rapinoe played her final match with the U.S. in September, but the NWSL title match will mark her last appearance for the Reign after 11 seasons with the club. She is one of just five players league-wide who have remained with the same team since the NWSL’s launch.
Krieger, 39, announced before the start of the season that it would be her last.
Krieger’s club career has stretched some 16 years, with stops in Germany and Sweden. She won a Champions League title with Frankfurt. On home soil, she played for the Washington Spirit before a lengthy stint with the Orlando Pride from 2016 to 2021.
At the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals, Krieger scored the game-winning penalty kick after a 2-2 draw against Brazil. The Americans went on to lose on penalties to Japan that year. In all, Krieger made 108 appearances for the United States.
“It's such a Cinderella ending for Krieger, and Pinoe. They have given so much of themselves to this game,” Gotham forward Lynn Williams said. “I think that both of them are so deserving.”
Krieger said Friday she's most proud of how she is seeing the results of some of the things she advocated for. She said when the NWSL launched in 2013, she was fighting for socks to wear at training.
“To see where it is now, and to see what we have, and to come here and feel like this final is what we deserve, with all the media attention, the social media going on. I mean, just the level of professionalism has definitely been tremendous,” she said.
The league on Thursday announced a new media rights deal worth $60 million a year. The package will put NWSL matches on CBS Sports, ESPN, Amazon Prime Video and Scripps Sports broadcast and streaming platforms for the next four years.
Attendance at NWSL games also grew 36% across the board this season. The San Diego Wave led the league with an average of 20,718 fans per home match.
Gotham finished 8-7-7 this season and earned the final spot in the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. The team eliminated North Carolina and the Portland Thorns — both on the road — to reach the final.
The Reign was the No. 4 seed after finishing 9-8-5, and downed Angel City and the San Diego Wave in the postseason to advance.
North Carolina Courage forward Kerolin was named the league's MVP on Friday after a vote by the players, team staffs, media and fans. She scored 10 goals for the Courage this season.
Other winners of the league's postseason awards: Gotham's Jenna Nighswonger was named Rookie of the Year, San Diego's Naomi Girma was named Defender of the Year, Houston's Jane Campbell was named Goalkeeper of the Year and Gotham's Juan Carlos Amorós was named Coach of the Year.
Tiffany & Co. and the league collaborated on a new championship trophy fashioned from 24K gold vermeil and sterling silver to be awarded for the first time this year. The trophy had not been refreshed since the league's opening season.
Tiffany also designed the league's MVP trophy.
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