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Retiring stars Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger meet in ‘fairytale’ NWSL final

Megan Rapinoe (15) celebrates with teammates after OL Reign's NWSL semifinal win. Rapinoe is set to retire at the end of the season. (Kiyoshi Mio/USA TODAY Sports)

Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger are set to hang up their cleats at the end of the 2023 NWSL season. But both will have to wait just a little bit longer, as their teams combined to script a storybook ending for the retiring stars.

With victories in Sunday’s semifinals, OL Reign and Gotham FC set up an NWSL Championship meeting between Rapinoe and Krieger as a fitting finale to their illustrious careers. One of the U.S. women’s national team legends is guaranteed to take home the title.

Both Rapinoe and Krieger are two-time World Cup champions, having been teammates on the 2015 and 2019 USWNT squads. Rapinoe, 38, made her final appearance for the national team in September, while Krieger, 39, played her last match with the team in 2021, but they have kept their stories going in the NWSL.

Yet in the waning weeks of the season, they seemed destined for quiet ends. OL Reign and Gotham FC were in danger of missing the playoffs entirely. And even after both teams narrowly clinched postseason berths, history stood against them: The Reign had not won a playoff game since 2015, and Gotham had never won a playoff game in franchise history.

Rapinoe’s and Krieger’s teammates, though, rallied around them. And with the Reign’s 1-0 win over the No. 1 seed San Diego Wave and Gotham’s 1-0 win over the No. 2 seed Portland Thorns, the dueling Cinderella stories reached the league final.

“The fairytale is Pinoe and Kriegs,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said. “It’s a great story.”

USWNT and OL Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle concurred, noting: “It seems a bit poetic that the championship game is ending with Krieger and Pinoe’s last game.”

For the Reign, to cap Rapinoe’s career with her first NWSL title is the goal. For Gotham, to win a first title for Krieger has become a literal rallying cry.

“We all just feel this need to keep Ali Krieger in the game and to keep playing,” Gotham goalkeeper Mandy Haught said. “And it’s just the amazing camaraderie in this group that just like, we’re going to do this for us and we’re gonna do this for Kriegs. We’re not done yet. We’re going to go all the way.”