As the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season came to a close on Saturday, Gotham FC completed an improbable run from the depths of the league to the summit by defeating the OL Reign 2-1 in the championship game.

It was meant to be a sendoff for legends Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger in the most anticipated NWSL championship game in the league’s short existence.

However, the plot of the game was abruptly altered by the early injury to Rapinoe.

In the third minute of a scoreless contest, Rapinoe fell down with an injury that wasn’t caused by contact. She made a run at Gotham‘s Maitane Lopez, who was dribbling just beyond the penalty area when she abruptly fell down.

After lying on the field for almost two minutes, the 38-year-old athlete was eventually helped up by the training personnel. After that, she returned to the Reign’s bench at Snapdragon Stadium by walking along the sideline.

Megan Rapinoe montage after her last game

Ali Krieger of Gotham FC and the U.S. Women’s National Team, who is also retiring from the sport like Rapinoe, went up to give her a hug at the conclusion of the game. The veteran winger’s injury was not immediately known to be serious. In a postgame interview with CBS, the Olympic gold medalist, however, revealed that she may have ruptured her Achilles tendon in the incident.

Despite the match being promoted as a battle between legends Rapinoe and Krieger, it was the latter who ended up on top, lifting her first NWSL title in her 18-year-old career.

Gotham’s new signings overshone veterans’ efforts

Interestingly, the New Jersey club had the worst record in the whole National Women’s Soccer League a year ago, finishing at the bottom of the table. Gotham made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history thanks to some key personnel changes, a new coaching staff, and an overhauled attitude.

On Saturday in San Diego, two of the new recruits shone as unsung heroes. One of them was Lynn Williams, a two-time NWSL champion who was acquired in a trade with Kansas City on draft day.

Williams matched Kristen Hamilton for the most NWSL championships finals played when she took the field for Gotham in this, her fifth appearance. However, with the victory, she became the league’s first four-time champion, a feat that had never been accomplished before. She significantly contributed to that achievement by opening the scoring in the 24th minute.

Five minutes later, OL Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle replied with a goal of her own, a beautiful left-footed effort that beat goalie Mandy Haught. Then, Esther Gonzalez scored in first-half stoppage time to give Gotham the lead for good after the Seattle opponents had tied the game.

Contest peaked in dying minutes

There was a lot of tension in the game’s closing minutes. Gotham FC almost lost control of the clash after their goalie Mandy Haught was sent out in extra time, but they were able to hang on to their advantage.

After the first-ever VAR review in NWSL Championship history, Haught was sent off for a handball infraction and the evident missed goal-scoring chance that resulted from the play. After all of Gotham’s subs were used up, defensive back Nealy Martin suited up in goal.

Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle took the subsequent free kick, but it was blocked by a group of players before it could reach the back of the goal. A few seconds later, the referee sounded the final whistle, officially giving Gotham the win.

Photo credit: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire