OL Reign, Canada’s Quinn, Huitema defeated as Gotham FC wins 1st NWSL championship

World Cup winner Esther Gonzalez scored the go-ahead goal on a header in first-half stoppage time and Gotham FC survived a wild finish to beat OL Reign 2-1 on Saturday night in a National Women’s Soccer League championship match that was in its first few minutes when Megan Rapinoe hobbled off the pitch in a heartbreaking end to her career.

Following a VAR review in stoppage time, Gotham goalie Mandy Haught was issued a red card for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and sent off, giving the Reign a chance to tie it.

With defender Nealy Martin taking over in goal, the Reign’s Rose Lavelle took a free kick just outside the box but it bounced off a Gotham player along the wall. Gotham was able to run out the clock and marked its first NWSL title with a wild celebration near midfield.

Canadian striker Jordyn Huitema played for 79 minutes, while midfielder Quinn was substituted in the 64th minute.

The non-contact injury to Reign star Rapinoe took some of the wind out of the crowd at San Diego State’s Snapdragon Stadium. The match had been billed as a showdown between Rapinoe and Gotham’s Ali Krieger, both of whom were looking for their first NWSL title before retiring.

Rapinoe broke toward Maitane Lopez of Gotham, who was dribbling outside the penalty area, and suddenly went down in the third minute. After staying on the ground for a few minutes, Rapinoe needed help from two trainers for the long walk along one end line and then down the sideline to the Reign’s bench.

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Krieger ran over and hugged her former teammate from the U.S. Women’s National Team.

There was no immediate word about the severity of Rapinoe’s injury.

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.

The field at Snapdragon appeared in better shape than it was on Sunday night, when the Reign beat the San Diego Wave to advance, some 24 hours after a home San Diego State football game. Still, there were several areas where the grass remained chewed up.

With the score tied at 1 in stoppage time, Gonzalez, who helped Spain win the Women’s World Cup, slipped between two defenders and headed a perfect corner kick by Midge Purce into the corner of the net out of the reach of Reign goalie Claudia Dickey.

“We stuck to our plan, we committed to each other… and we know how good we can be,” said Gotham defender Ali Krieger, a beloved fan favourite who will hang up her cleats for the last time after Saturday.

“We had so much experience to the very last game and we were so, so excited to just come out here and enjoy the atmosphere… and enjoy each other one last time,” said Krieger in on-field remarks. “I’m so happy we can go home with this trophy.”

Purce also fed Lynn Williams in front of the net for the opening goal in the 24th minute.

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The Reign tied it in the 29th minute when Lavelle dribbled in and beat Haught.

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