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OL Reign advance to NWSL Championship off Veronica Latsko goal

Veronica Latsko celebrates with Megan Rapinoe after scoring the game-winning goal for OL Reign in Sunday's NWSL semifinal win over the San Diego Wave. (Kiyoshi Mio/USA TODAY Sports)

OL Reign’s Rose Lavelle dribbled near the right corner with two San Diego Wave defenders in her path. Lavelle passed to the nearby Veronica Latsko, who carried the ball further up the line.

Just feet from the baseline, with Wave defenders crashing into the box in front of her, Latsko let loose a high cross. The ball hung in the air as it sailed across the goalmouth before ringing off the far post and into the netting.

“That was not supposed to be a shot,” the 27-year-old forward admitted after the match.

Yet Latsko’s improbable goal propelled the No. 4 Reign to a 1-0 win over No. 1 San Diego and secured them a spot in the NWSL Championship against Gotham FC at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11.

The Reign started their 2023 playoff run with their first postseason win since 2015. They have not played in an NWSL final since 2015, and they have never won the title. Gotham won their first two playoff games in franchise history this postseason. So the season will end with a first-time champion.

And with her goal against the Wave, Latsko became the third player in NWSL history to score in back-to-back playoff games.

OL Reign’s offensive dominance showed itself at the beginning of Sunday’s semifinal, as the club managed three shots on goal in the opening 30 minutes. They finished the first half with four scoring chances to the Wave’s two.

But the Seattle-based club didn’t break through until early in the second half, when Latsko’s boot put an end to San Diego’s season.

And it’s a good thing the Reign got on the board when they did. After the club controlled the ball for much of the first half, San Diego made its presence known in the second half. The Wave eventually took the majority of possession, shots and chances created in front of their home crowd at Snapdragon Stadium. But the Reign defense stood fast, clearing two crucial corners in the 87th and 88th minutes to prevent the Wave from breaking through.

“I think that our team is built on the foundation of defense, and when you get the defensive part right from top to bottom, that’s when you can win games,” Latsko said.

In the end, Latsko’s wide-angle shot was enough to extend the Reign’s season and retiring star Megan Rapinoe’s career. And Rapinoe’s teammates plan to rise to the occasion at the NWSL Championship.

“I think it’s really special to be able to get her there,” Lavelle said. “I think it’s really special to finally get to this moment and be able to be on this stage. Obviously, the job is not done and we have a big week ahead of us preparing for that.”