SAN DIEGO – A month before a season ends is an odd time to ask players what their “why” is for competing this season.
“It can’t all be about Megan (Rapinoe),” OL Reign coach Laura Harvey said of her talk with the team after a September loss in Portland.
Rapinoe became the reason on a cool Saturday night in San Diego. Players for the fourth-seeded Reign shared their individual whys that propelled them to the club’s first championship final since 2015.
The Reign were searching for why in more ways than one after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Gotham FC.
Three minutes into the match against NJ/NY Gotham FC, Rapinoe stumbled to the ground at Snapdragon Stadium with an apparent right leg injury.
The noncontact incident happened on the left side of the field as Rapinoe was attempting to poach a pass. She laid on her back while being tended to by trainers. A stretcher was called shortly after, but Rapinoe rose and limped off the pitch with medical staff at her side.
Ali Krieger, captain of Gotham’s team and former teammate on the U.S. women’s national team, ran to give Rapinoe a hug before the match restarted. The two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winners announced this season would be their last playing soccer. A league title was the only trophy neither had won.
The crowd gave Rapinoe a standing ovation as she walked the perimeter of the field with the medical staff to take a seat on the bench. She used crutches to make her way into the locker room at halftime.
The striker announced her retirement from a storied career last summer, imagining it would be lifting a league trophy – the only title she hasn’t won since turning pro in 2009. Instead, she appears to have suffered the fourth knee injury of her career.
Rapinoe tore her left ACL in 2006 and 2007. She tore the right in 2015.
Harvey subbed on forward Bethany Balcer in the sixth minute to replace Rapinoe.
Gotham had a beautiful buildup play for game’s opening goal in the 24th minute. Midge Pierce hugged the end line as she sent a low cross into the box for Lynn Williams to knock past Reign keeper Claudia Dickey.
Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury last year and fought back to lead Gotham in goals during the regular season (seven).
Balcer had a smooth through ball to catch midfielder Rose Lavelle on the run toward for the equalizer in the 29th minute.
But in the 5-minute first-half stoppage time set due to Rapinoe’s injury, Gotham took the lead. Purce had the assist off a corner kick, placing the ball perfectly for teammate Esther González Rodríguez to head into goal.
The Spanish international helped her country win the World Cup last summer.
Reign midfielder Veronica Latsko had an open look for an equalizer in the 60th minute. Gotham keeper Mandy Haught impressed the 25,011 in attendance with a leaping save.
The crowd set an NWSL record for a championship match.