In front of an announced crowd of 25,011 fans at Snapdragon Stadium on Saturday, November 11, 2023, Gotham FC won their first NWSL Championship in team history with a 2-1 victory over OL Reign. The game was a wild start and finish that saw global soccer star Megan Rapinoe injured in the 6th minute in what was her retirement match and ended in a field player playing goalkeeper in stoppage time to maintain the lead and win the championship.
Before either side hade any meaningful offensive chances, Megan Rapinoe injured herself in a non-contact injury in the oppositions half.
Rapinoe was looking to apply pressure to a defender but instead described the injury saying she “yeeted my achilles.” The dark comedy of her final game as a professional soccer player came over her as she seemingly laughed off the injury at first on the ground but was seen to be much more emotional as she was carried up and helped to limp off the pitch. The fans at Snapdragon Stadium gave her a standing ovation, but the game continued on, and Bethany Balcer was substituted on in her place.
From that moment on, most of the second half favored Gotham FC as they dominated in possession and imposed their style on the Reign before putting one in the back of the net in the 24th minute. The goal came thanks to the astounding play of Midge Purce, who won the game’s MVP award. Purce received a pass from her defenders and moved the ball up the pitch from near the halfway point. She sent the ball ahead to avoid one defender, avoided the slide tackle of another, juked a defender to take the ball into the penalty area, and ran the ball all the way to the goal box before sending an easy pass to the center of the area for Lynn Williams to hit it in with her right to make it 1-0.
“Midge (Purce) is an amazing one-v-one attacker, and I just saw her getting around the corner, and as a forward, it’s your job to get your butt in the box, and they put it in the box, and you just get in there, and hopefully you tap it in,” Lynn Williams said about the goal.
The second goal of the match came in the 29th minute and inserted much-needed life back into the OL Reign offense, who had not managed a shot on goal to that point. The Reign intercepted a pass from the Gotham midfield and managed to pass the ball quickly up the field before eventually reaching Rose Lavelle, whose speed in attacking moments can be unmatched. She just managed to stay onside for the pass and got a one-on-one opportunity against the goalkeeper, and send it in easily to equalize at 1-1.
Though second half still had more action as Gotham took the lead back in the second minute of first-half stoppage time. They were awarded a corner kick after some strong play transitioned the ball into the opposition’s final third and Purce came through for the team with another assist.
She took the corner kick and sent it perfectly to the center of the box for Esther Gonzalez to jump and head it into the opposite of where the goalkeeper was positioned, making it 2-1 going into halftime.
Gotham solidified their defense throughout the second half, keeping the Reign at bay until the end of stoppage time, when the match became somewhat chaotic. The Reign had a strong chance in the run of play, similar to their first goal, rushing down the field with a one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper. Only this time, Reign goalkeeper Mandy Haught came out of her box and touched the ball with her hands. After a short VAR check, the officials determined it would be a red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity and the Reign would be awarded a direct free kick at the top of the box.
By this time, the Reign had used all their substitutes, and Nealy Martin, one of their field players, had to quickly take the gloves and put on a spare goalkeeper’s kit. Martin has already been in this situation earlier in the season when multiple Reign players were injured in a game in August against San Diego Wave.
Martin stood ready and three Reign players stood at the ball to take the free kick, though it was made simple as Rose Lavelle took the shot, but it did not go over the wall and left the Reign with no more chances as the match ended a minute later crowning Gotham FC the 2023 NWSL champions.
“It’s tough for it to end like that with ‘Pinoe.’ I think everybody just had such a great time sharing the field with her and being her teammate. I’m sad we couldn’t get it done for her,” Lavelle said. “(I’m) disappointed in myself a little bit for, second goal, not executing in the final moments… I feel like I have a lot going through my head right now; yeah, I’m sad.”
Abraham Zepeda is a bilingual Chula Vista Native covering the Tijuana Xolos for EVT. He spent the summer of 2022 covering San Diego Loyal SC and San Diego Wave FC. He is also currently a student at the University of Oregon pursuing a degree in journalism.