|photo from Gotham FC
by Anthony J. Merced
SAN DIEGO, CA - Gotham FC raise their first championship in club history with a 2-1 win over OL Reign in front of a record-breaking 25 thousand fans at SnapDragon Stadium on Saturday evening. First half goals for Lynn Williams and Esther Gonzalez were enough to ward off a Reign team that pushed late for an equalizer but continue to come up short in big games. Ali Kreiger will end her career with a championship, leading Gotham to one of the biggest turnarounds in league history year-over-year.
Emotions ran the spectrum in the first half with Women's Soccer legend Megan Rapinoe having to exit the game in the sixth minute due to a leg injury. What followed as a spell of domination from Gotham as they pulled the Reign defense thin by playing through the wings. It paid off in the 24th minute when Midge Purce dribbled into the box and passed to Williams for the game's opening goal. Minutes later the Reign equalized with a pass from substitute Bethany Balcer to Rose Lavelle.
Gotham continued to press the game, hitting both the post and crossbar within seconds late in the half. Just when it appeared as if the teams would stay level heading into halftime, Spanish World Cup winner Gonzalez leaped for a corner cross and headed Gotham into the lead yet again.
Reign came out in the second half looking for the equalizer. Lavelle in particular pushed up the field and created dangerous opportunities for her teammates. Their biggest chance came in the 60th minute when Lavelle played Veronica Latsko through one-on-one against Mandy Haught. The Gotham goalkeeper came up with one of the biggest saves of the season, keeping Gotham ahead.
Stoppage time produced late drama when goalkeeper Haught came out of the box, obstructing an opportunity and being sent off after video review. The ensuing free kick required that Gotham leave a field player in goal, Nealy Martin. The effort was blocked by the wall and Gotham survived to win.
The dramatic game sees Gotham raise the NWSL trophy having won three away games and only surrendering one goal over that span. The win adds to OL Reign's long history of championship defeats and establishes Gotham as one of the premier teams in the NWSL and in world women's football.
Gotham FC: Haught; Santos, Lopez, Kreiger, Nighswonger, Ryan, Gonzalez (89' Stengel), Martin (69' Farrelly), Sheehan (81' Long), Purce, Williams
OL Reign: Dickey; Huerta, Cook, Barnes, McLernon, Latsko, Fishlock (85' Bennett), Sonnett, Rapinoe (6' Balcer), Huitema (75' Quinn), Lavelle
90' (Gotham FC) Mandy Haught - RED CARD