With less than two minutes of stoppage time left in the 2023 NWSL Championship, the cameras found Gotham FC captain Ali Krieger. She was smiling.
Her team had maintained a one-goal advantage since the first half. But between Krieger’s smile and her final victory, there was a free kick in favor of OL Reign. A red card on Gotham goalkeeper Mandy Haught for a handball outside the box provided the opposing team with a dangerous chance for an equalizer.
Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle stepped up to take the shot, but her blast bounced off the wall of Gotham players shielding the net.
At the sound of the whistle, Krieger raised her arms outward and raced to the center circle. The 39-year-old defender was swallowed by a sea of white jerseys embracing her in celebration.
“I knew we would be in this position,” Krieger said. “And I knew that everyone was willing to buy into the plan, to the process, and also to themselves.”
Krieger’s club, the last-place finisher in the 2022 NWSL season, came out of nowhere to secure the trophy in the final match of her storied career.
“I’m so happy for her. So happy for her to be able to go out like this on an incredible career,” Krieger’s former U.S. women’s national teammate and Reign star Megan Rapinoe said. “It’s obviously very sad for us but an amazing accomplishment for them and an incredible season and incredible turnaround from last year.”
Before the postgame ceremony, Krieger’s eyes sparkled with tears and she shook her head over and over. On her last day as a professional soccer player, she did something for the first time: She won an NWSL championship.
As she hoisted the trophy in front of her teammates, fireworks burst and gold confetti rained on the victors. Krieger experienced a fitting end to her career and added another trophy to her case.
“I’ve dreamt of this for so long,” Krieger said. “To play club soccer in my own country and to win it in front of 25,000 people, and it’s only going to get better and better. This is just the beginning.”