It’s a rarity in sports to go out a champion. But on Saturday, either Megan Rapinoe or Ali Krieger will do just that and close out their illustrious career hoisting a trophy.
The two U.S. Women’s National Team greats and two-time World Cup champions will face off in the 2023 NWSL Championship Match as Rapinoe’s OL Reign take on Krieger and NJ/NY Gotham FC at 8 p.m. ET at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego (CBS & Paramount+). Krieger, 39, announced in March that the 2023 NWSL Season would be her last while Rapinoe, 38, did so in July prior to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
While they will be battling each other in the title game – perhaps directly as Rapinoe will look to run at the defensive line anchored by Krieger -- both are striving for their first NWSL Championship and the longtime USWNT teammates and good friends feel privileged to have the opportunity to close out their careers together.
“She’s magic,” said Krieger of her longtime teammate. “She’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with if, not one of the best midfielders to ever play the game. I was so lucky to share the field with her for 15 years, to call her a teammate, to ultimately call her a friend – a best friend. I value her just as a human being and I want to thank her for everything she’s given the game and everything she’s given to me, because she’s made me look good out on the field. I hope she can say the same about me.”
Krieger and Rapinoe earned a combined 311 caps for the USWNT and played in 67 games together for their county, the first of which came on May 22, 2010, in a friendly against Germany and the final on January 22, 2021, against Colombia.
In the more than 10 years in between, the two helped bring the USWNT – and women’s soccer as a whole – to new heights, beginning with the 2011 World Cup. While the U.S. fell to Japan on penalty kicks in the final, Rapinoe and Krieger played a starring role in one of the most iconic matches of that tournament as the USA downed Brazil in quarterfinals. Krieger scored the game-winning penalty kick in the shootout after Abby Wambach famously sent the match to PKs with a last-gasp equalizer off an assist from Rapinoe in the 122nd minute.
While Krieger missed the 2012 Olympics after suffering a torn ACL in qualifying, Rapinoe made sure her presence was felt on the field. After scoring in the USA’s second group stage match over Colombia on July 28, 2012, Rapinoe unveiled a written message for Krieger – who was watching from home on her 28th birthday.
Krieger returned to the pitch for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and helped anchor a U.S. backline that put together one of the most dominant defensive
performances in World Cup history, recording five consecutive shutouts on the way to its third Women’s World Cup title. Rapinoe started all six matches and tallied two goals and two assists that tournament as the USWNT won the World Cup for the first time since 1999.
The two teamed up for a third and final World Cup together in 2019 as the USA made it back-to-back World Cup titles. Rapinoe dominated the headlines with her remarkable performance that summer, winning the Golden Ball as the best player in the World Cup and the Golden Boot as the top scorer with six goals. Rapinoe scored the game-winning penalty kick in the final against the Netherlands, a match in which Krieger, who was a reserve on that 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship team, came off the bench at halftime in place of an injured Kelley O’Hara and played a key role in helping the USA secure its fourth star.
Along with leading the U.S. to historic success on the field, Rapinoe and Krieger have also been leaders in advocating for change in sport and society, using their spotlights to advocate for pay equity, LGBTQ+ rights, social justice and many other important issues.
With their international careers having come to a close, all attention – and all emotions – are firmly focused on Saturday’s championship game. NJ/NY Gotham FC is looking to complete a remarkable turnaround and capture the franchise’s first ever championship just one year after finishing last in the league. The Reign, who won the 2022 NWSL Shield and have long been contenders in the league, are still looking for that elusive title, having fallen short in the final in both 2014 and 2015.
While only one can lift the trophy on Saturday evening, Rapinoe and Krieger will both be leaving the game as legends, champions and with a friendship that will last a lifetime.
“It’s going to be a really special moment to get to celebrate,” said Rapinoe, who calls Krieger both “one of my best friends” and “probably the best right back I’ve ever played with.” “And I know if I win, she’ll be happy for me and if she wins, I’ll be thrilled for her.”