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NJ/NY Gotham FC edges OL Reign for first NWSL championship

Nov 11, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; New Jersey/New York Gotham FC celebrate after winning the 2023 NWSL Championship match against OL Reign at Snapdragon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

Esther Gonzalez scored the decider just before halftime, Nealy Martin endured some nervy late moments as an emergency goalkeeper, and NY/NJ Gotham FC earned their first NWSL Championship with a 2-1 victory over OL Reign on Saturday night in San Diego.

Lynn Williams scored the opening goal for Gotham, which survived a dramatic late twist when goalkeeper Mandy Haught was sent off for handling outside the box and denying Reign an obvious goal-scoring opportunity deep in second-half stoppage time.

With Gotham’s substitutes all used, Martin had to leave the midfield and go in goal for the last three minutes or so. But Gotham’s defense prevented Reign from registering a shot on target in those last moments.

Midge Purce assisted both goals to earn Championship MVP honors for NY/NJ, which finished last in the NWSL a season ago and won the title after earning the sixth and final seed in the playoffs.

Gotham scored on both of their shots on target and held Reign to only two of theirs, giving defender and 2015 and 2019 World Cup winner Ali Krieger, 39, one more piece of silverware in her final game as a professional.

The Reign lost for a third time in the NWSL Championship game — and first since 2015 — on a night that started ominously when two-time World Cup-winning attacker Megan Rapinoe had to exit her final game as a pro with an early injury.

Rose Lavelle scored for the Seattle-based runners-up to level the game at 1-1 and was the architect of their best two opportunities to level the game at 2-2.

Williams put Gotham in front in the 24th minute on an attack created when Purce beat two Reign defenders on a dynamic run, then dragged a low cross from the byline back toward the penalty spot.

Williams met it with a late run about 8 yards from goal and powered a clean, first-time finish past Claudia Dickey.

Lavelle leveled only five minutes later when she timed her run perfectly to remain onside and then sprinted onto Bethany Balcer’s throughball and finished coolly past Haught.

Gotham went ahead again in first-half stoppage time when Gonzalez changed direction to elude her marker, then header Purce’s corner kick past Dickey and a defender on the line.

Lavelle nearly set up a 60th-minute equalizer when she spun out of a challenge from two defenders and sprayed a perfect pass to the breaking Veronica Latsko, only for Haught to save Latsko at close range.

Haught then erred when she reached outside the penalty area to disrupt another break and was rightly red-carded following a video review. But Reign could only manage a free kick into the defensive wall in the frenetic final moments.

–Field Level Media