Megan Rapinoe recognized that something spellbinding had happened in San Diego Sunday to set up the most fitting final chapter possible for her career.
On her Instagram story after OL Reign’s NWSL semifinal win over the Wave, she simply wrote ‘RONNIE’ alongside a magic wand emoji — a reference to teammate Veronica Latsko pulling a rabbit out of a hat to keep this extraordinary adventure going.
Latsko didn’t intend to conjure up the goal that ultimately proved decisive at the Snapdragon Stadium in front of over 32,000 fans, a record attendance for the playoffs.
But after her cross sailed over the head of Wave goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan and into the far side of the net early on in the second half, the Reign controlled the rest of the game to eliminate the NWSL Shield winners in their own backyard.
Amid wild celebrations at the final whistle, Rapinoe roared and whooped with delight. She had been tireless on the left wing, a vital outlet to relieve pressure on the Reign defense which expertly stifled Casey Stoney’s Wave side.
“She ran about tonight like she was 28, not 38,” said Reign coach Laura Harvey.
In a post-match interview for CBS Sports, analyst Lianne Sanderson begged Harvey to “talk her out of it”, referring to Rapinoe’s retirement which has been extended to the last possible point.
“No chance,” said Harvey. But what a finale lies in store, not least because of who is lining up for the opposition… Ali Krieger is not done yet either.
Earlier in the evening in Portland, NJ/NY Gotham FC knocked out Portland Thorns thanks to substitute Katie Stengel’s outstanding strike in extra-time, with Krieger marshaling the visitors’ defense to a clean sheet — no mean feat against the league’s top scorer Sophia Smith.
Watching on at Providence Park was Kyle Krieger, who tweeted his delight and disbelief at his 39-year-old sister spinning out her swansong all the way to the Championship Game.
The gay influencer and model followed it up with a swipe — “It’s also the perfect ‘f**k you’” — seemingly aimed at those who have disrupted Ali Krieger’s off-field life in recent months; she filed for divorce from Ashlyn Harris in September.
Wow I’m so happy — what an awesome career ending season she’s having this is just so incredible.— Kyle Krieger (@kylekrieger) November 6, 2023
Of course, that’s all just part of the wider narrative; the protagonists are the players themselves. “The fairytale is Pinoe and Kriegs,” admitted Harvey in her post-match press conference. “It’s a great story.”
This will be the second NWSL final of Krieger’s career. Seven years ago, she missed a penalty in the shootout as the Washington Spirit lost to the Western New York Flash after a 2-2 draw in Houston.
In her subsequent five seasons with the Orlando Pride, the team only made the playoffs once, in 2017, when the Thorns thrashed them 4-1 in the semifinals.
Last season, her first with Gotham, she was part of the side that lost 5-0 at Providence Park; the team finished bottom of the league. Sunday’s shutout in Oregon must have felt particularly sweet for Krieger, who has since been named in the NWSL’s Best XI First Team.
For Rapinoe, it will be a third attempt to help the Reign end their season by taking home the silverware. In both 2014 and 2015, FC Kansas City edged out Harvey’s team during the coach’s initial stint in charge.
Between them, Rapinoe and Krieger have over 300 international caps for the USWNT and their stories intertwine on various levels — the World Cup wins, their equity and advocacy work, their visibility as out LGBTQ athletes (they were ranked #2 and #14 respectively on the Outsports Power 100 list) and especially, their close friendship.
Krieger shared an ESPN post captioned ‘Storybook ending’ to her own Instagram, adding a pair of old lady emojis and conveying her own excitement at the impending duel.
She also laughed in response to Ted Yeschin, Senior VP of sports marketing agency Wasserman, who commented on an archive pic posted by Togethxr of a beaming Rapinoe and Krieger in their younger days with the USWNT, asking: “Can they just tie?!”
It’s hard not to get swept up in the mythology of it all. Another Insta story post from Krieger later on Monday suggests “the prophecy was written”, as Equalizer Soccer’s Jenna Tonelli phrased it.
Meanwhile, from a Reign perspective, Harvey was keen to celebrate the contributions of all her ‘OG’ trio — Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock and Lauren Barnes — in her post-match press conference.
“Their last-ever game together is a Championship final — you don’t write a better script than that,” said the coach. “For them three, it’s phenomenal.”
Reign’s Rose Lavelle agreed: “It seems a bit poetic that the Championship game is ending with Krieger and Pinoe’s last game.
“But not just Pinoe, I think like Jess (Fishlock), Lu (Barnes), Laura (Harvey)... they’ve been the backbone of this club and have made this club into what it is, so I think it’s really special to finally get to this moment and be able to be on this stage.”
It was before the ‘Forever Reign’ send-off game in Seattle last month that Harvey described the impact that Rapinoe has had on her, explaining how she had “never lived authentically” before working with the midfielder but that being around her had provided the platform to be herself.
There are thousands of LGBTQ soccer fans around the world who will have felt personally empowered by Rapinoe and Krieger during their careers, and countless allies who admire how they have played with pride.
It all helps to create an enchanting sense of symmetry as they prepare to headline the Reign vs Gotham showdown in San Diego.
Only one legend can crown it all off with victory — who will prevail? Gather round on Saturday to find out.