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Tobin Heath: ‘Best players’ are not in NWSL Championship match

Gotham FC players celebrate Katie Stengel's game-winning goal against the Portland Thorns in the NWSL semifinals. (Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Preview the 2023 NWSL Championship by tuning into the Just Women’s Sports Super Show Presented by State Farm, featuring surprise guest appearances by NWSL stars. Watch here.

The NWSL Championship will bring plenty of buzz. But “the most exciting NWSL players aren’t going to be in the final,” Christen Press said on a recent episode of “The RE-CAP Show.”

No. 4 OL Reign will meet No. 6 Gotham FC in the NWSL Championship at 8 p.m. ET Saturday — a game that will prominently feature Megan Rapinoe, 38, and Ali Krieger, 39, as they finish their legendary careers.

Press and co-host Tobin Heath are happy for “elder millennials” Rapinoe and Krieger, but they are “done with retirement games,” as Heath stated on the podcast.

“I want to see the best players in their prime, and the best players that are coming up, and right now, I don’t see any of those two things in this final,” she said.

In the same episode, Press and Heath discussed the playoff format and how it may negatively affect players that had a first-round bye or had to leave training to fulfill U.S. women’s national team duties. The two top-seeded teams — the San Diego Wave and Portland Thorns — fell in the semifinals after long periods of not playing together, making room for the lower-seeded Reign and Gotham in the championship match.

Yet while none of the five NWSL MVP nominees will appear in the final, Press and Heath did give the players and teams who did reach this point their due. They pointed to Gotham forward Lynn Williams and Reign midfielder Emily Sonnett as potential game changers.

Heath highlighted Rapinoe and Krieger’s retirements, which give the match a great storyline. And both were excited that this tournament will end with a first-time NWSL champion. Press and Heath missed the 2023 season with injuries, but Heath won two NWSL titles with the Portland Thorns, and both played with Rapinoe and Krieger on the 2019 USWNT World Cup squad.

“Really, really interesting obviously, two teams that have never won a championship that, for the first time ever, they’ll make history and that’s so exciting,” Heath said. “If you look at a player like Pinoe and Krieger, they both have never won an NWSL Championship either. So it’s huge, one of them is going to do something at the end of their career for the first time.”