On Saturday night, NJ/NY Gotham FC found themselves in San Diego for the NWSL Championships. At the end of the regular season, no one thought this would be a possibility. The team struggled and barely made the playoffs.
However, the ladies turned things around, reminding fans that they were battling for first place at one point. They won away matches against the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns FC. The success during the first two playoff games led them to face OL Reign in the finals.
Meanwhile, Gotham FC's Ali Krieger and OL Reign's Megan Rapinoe were to hang up their boots when the final whistle blew. Neither team had won the Championship either. Both wanted to grab that trophy.
In the end, it was Gotham FC who triumphed. They won 2-1 in a crazy action-packed match that had late drama.
Gotham FC won to become the NWSL Champions
The game started off in a sad way. The whole storyline was how Krieger and Rapinoe, who are friends and soccer legends, would face off against one another in their last match. Rapinoe could not end her career in the way she wanted, for she came off within the first few minutes due to a lower leg injury.
The injury somewhat sucked out the air of the match. Both teams spent the first 15 minutes switching possession and moving the ball. But then a recognition that this was the Championship seemed to take hold. Subsequently, this led to a change on the pitch. The expected fight resumed, and players began to play at a higher level.
This led to two quick goals for Gotham and OL Reign. Lynn Williams, who had not scored for the Bats since June, opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Midge Purce had the ball on the right side and maneuvered around her opponents to move the ball into the box. Toward the end line, she made a perfect pass to Williams, who tapped the ball into the back of the net.
The lead did not last long though. Rose Lavelle scored to draw the match level after the high backline of Gotham was a little too high. This allowed the USWNT star to run unopposed and easily put the ball past Mandy Haught.
That did not discourage the team from the NJ/NY tristate area. They continued to attack and almost got their second around the 38th minute. Chaos in the box allowed a header attempt from Purce, but it was saved. Then, Delanie Sheehan had her chance, but the ball went off the crossbar.
It was a stoppage-time corner kick that led to the Bats' second of the night. Purce sent the ball into the box, and who was there to meet it? It was Esther González. She headed the ball into the back of the net to put her team ahead going into halftime.
The second half saw the ladies continue the high-energy fixture. OL Reign aimed to draw the match level again, while Gotham FC desired to score a third. Around the 60th, the Bold almost took advantage of the Bats' highline again after Veronica Latsko received a through ball with no one in front of her. Haught had to step up, make herself big, and send the ball elsewhere.
No other goals would be scored as the second half progressed. Yet, late drama occurred in stoppage time. Haught, unfortunately, made a rookie mistake and touched the ball outside of the box, not allowing a clear goal-scoring opportunity. This allowed a free kick right outside of the box. Moreover, Nealy Martin had to go into goal since no substitutes were available.
Thankfully, Gotham FC held on, for Lavelle's free kick was blocked. Despite the drama, the Bats won their first-ever NWSL Championship. Moreover, Krieger won her first in the final game of her career.
The 2-1 win meant everything to the Bats. The faces of the team were joyful, ecstatic, and full of emotion as the celebration began. Who would not be that way? Gotham was a Cinderella story. They finished at the bottom of the table in 2022, almost missed the playoffs this season, and now are the NWSL Champions.
There is so much to be proud of from this season. It was not easy, but as the saying goes, nothing worthwhile is ever easy. NJ/NY Gotham FC knows that, and their hard work has led to the trophy.