Lynn Williams makes history, leading Gotham FC to its first NWSL championship

Gotham FC defender Ali Krieger, center with black captain's band, celebrates with her teammates against the OL Reign.
Gotham FC defender Ali Krieger, center with black captain’s band, celebrates with her teammates after a 2-1 win over the OL Reign for the NWSL title in San Diego on Saturday night.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The most-hyped NWSL championship game in the league’s brief history was supposed to be a celebration of Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger, who were making the final appearances of their storied careers.

But the game will be remembered for Lynn Williams’ brilliance and a Rapinoe injury that conspired to change the storyline early in Gotham FC’s 2-1 win over the OL Reign on Saturday.

Williams made history by taking the field for Gotham since the game marked her fifth NWSL final, matching Kristen Hamilton’s record. But with the win she wrote her own page in the record book, becoming the league’s only four-time champion. And she played a big part in that, opening the scoring in the 24th minute.


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Nov. 10, 2023

Gotham’s other goal came from Esther González in first-half stoppage time; Midge Purce assisted on both goals. In between, Rose Lavelle scored the Reign’s lone goal.

Yet despite the heroics of Williams and Purce, the game lost much of its luster in the third minute when Rapinoe collapsed to the turf with what appeared to be a right Achilles injury and had to be helped off by two trainers.

Rapinoe had made her presence known in the opening minute, sending a dangerous, left-footed cross into the box. Two minutes later she went down without being touched after making a move toward Gotham defender Jenna Nighswonger. As several teammates surrounded her, a stretcher was brought onto the field, but Rapinoe waved it off, struggling to her feet to accept a hug from Krieger as the crowd of 25,011 at Snapdragon Stadium, which had fallen silent, rose in applause.

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe, right, talks to teammates Rose Lavelle (16) and Jess Fishlock.
OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe, right, talks to teammates Rose Lavelle (16) and Jess Fishlock after sustaining a non-contact injury in the opening minutes of the NWSL championship game.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

She will have an MRI scan next week to determine the extent of the injury.

“It’s obviously disappointing to go out like that,” Rapinoe said. “Disappointing and sad. A bummer for so many reasons.”

“You don’t always get to have the perfect ending,” she added.

Bethany Balcer, who hadn’t played more than 15 minutes in a game in almost a month, came on in her place. Balcer would put her stamp on the game in another way 25 minutes later, delivering an exquisite through ball that launched Lavelle on a dash up the middle of the Gotham defense toward the tying goal.


Williams had drawn first blood with a right-footed shot from the center of the box five minutes earlier. The hard work on that one was done by Purce, who avoided a couple of challenges on a sprint up the right wing before delivering a right-footed feed from the edge of the six-yard box just short of the end line. It was the first goal Reign keeper Claudia Dickey had given up since Oct. 1, ending a string of 431 consecutive scoreless minutes. But it wouldn’t be the last.

The goal frame saved Dickey twice, seconds apart late in the first half, first when Purce hit the left post with a shot, sending a rebound out to Delanie Sheehan, who drove her try off the crossbar.

NJ/NY Gotham forward Lynn Williams (10) celebrates immediately after scoring against the OL Reign.
NJ/NY Gotham forward Lynn Williams (10) celebrates immediately after scoring against the OL Reign in the first half of the NWSL championship game on Saturday.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

But González, who signed with Gotham just days after winning the World Cup with Spain, didn’t miss with her header in first-half stoppage time, giving Gotham the lead for good by nodding in a bending Purce cross from the center of the box.

“It was disappointing to concede on a set piece so late in the first half,” OL Reign coach Laura Harvey said.

Gotham then had to hold off an OL Reign team that became more desperate as the game wore on. Goalkeeper Mandy Haught saved the game twice, first with a spectacular, diving, one-handed stop of a Veronica Latsko shot from close range, then by coming out to break up a clear scoring opportunity by Elyse Bennett deep in stoppage time by reaching outside the box to bat a loose ball away from the OL Reign attacker.


“I went to Mandy and she just started apologizing. She was saying, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry’,” Purce said. “I said, ‘Honey, you just saved the game. Are you kidding me?’”

Haught drew a red card on the second play and with Gotham out of substitutions, defender Nealy Martin took her place in front of the net for the ensuing free kick from inches outside the box. Martin was never tested, though, with Lavelle lining her kick into the Gotham wall.

“To have it end like this? It’s incredible,” Purce added.

That Gotham were even in the championship game seemed unlikely coming into the season. The team lost 17 times last season, but under first-year manager Juan Carlos Amorós, who last week was named the NWSL coach of the year, Gotham qualified for the playoffs for just the second time since 2013, then shut out North Carolina and Portland on the road to reach the final.

The title was the team’s first and its run from worst to first also sent Krieger, 39, out a winner for the first time. She had been close before, in 2016 with the Washington Spirit, but her missed penalty in a tiebreaking shootout proved crucial in a loss to the Western New York Flash.

Rapinoe, meanwhile, finished her career on the Reign bench, using crutches to make her way to the field for the start of the second half wearing a boot on her right foot.

“I still just wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “Just to continue to be there for the team and bring that positive energy.”


As for Krieger, a teammate on two World Cup championship teams, Rapinoe congratulated her on going out with the one prize she had never won: an NWSL title.

“So happy for her to be able to go out like this,” Rapinoe said. “It’s obviously very sad for us, but you know, an amazing accomplishment for them.”

An emotional Krieger, on the verge of tears in a postgame news conference, said the championship won’t change her mind about coming back.

“I just want to ride off into the sunset and enjoy this,” she said. “I don’t think I could dream of a better ending for myself. I love it so much and I have had so much fun. But it’s time and this is a perfect ending for me.”