Beneath the obvious occasion of OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe and Gotham FC’s Ali Krieger playing their final professional matches, Saturday’s NWSL Championship in San Diego is also a clash of two clubs with contrasting histories, both seeking their first titles.
The West Coast representatives are the Seattle-based OL Reign, who won the NWSL Shield as the league’s best regular season finisher in 2014 and 2015, when they were known as the Seattle Reign, only to lose in the championship match.
The 38-year-old Rapinoe, who will retire a two-time World Cup champion with the United States women’s national team, had yet to win an international title when she was playing for that first NWSL crown in 2014. And it was a less seasoned group as a whole, recalled coach Laura Harvey, who guided the Reign through to 2017 and then returned in 2021.
“We have players on our team who have been in really big moments now, that we didn’t have that in 2015 and 2014,” Harvey said, according to The Athletic. “We’ve got a lot of experience now. … So how can we lean on that? I think that’s going to be a big, big important thing.”
That experienced core also includes 2019 World Cup hero Rose Lavelle. The creative midfielder has endured injury concerns much of this year but has factored in down the stretch and is expected to be available on Saturday.
Gotham FC have only reached the NWSL postseason on three occasions and slipped into this year’s playoffs as the sixth and lowest seed.
Unlike the OL Reign, it’s a group that has been largely remade following a last-place finish in 2022. That includes the veteran defender Krieger — who played alongside Rapinoe at the Americans’ 2015 and 2019 World Cup triumphs. The 39-year-old is in her second season with the club after spending most of her NWSL career in Washington and then Orlando.
Striker Midge Purce, one of Gotham’s longer-tenured players after four seasons, says this group feels unburdened by past struggles.
“We jokingly say from worst to first, but I don’t think we ever really looked at ourselves as the worst,” Pruce said, per The Athletic. “I think for there to be this redemptive tone, we would have to really be trying to bounce back from something. But this is a new group. It’s a new coaching staff. It’s completely new.”
–Field Level Media