...it wasn't supposed to end like that.
There's never a script in footie. Somebody's storybook ending is always somebody else's heartbreaking almost-was. You never know how you're going to go out, or what your last moment is going to be.
But still – it wasn't supposed to end like that.
In sports, you win and you lose, and sometimes a bad night comes at the worst time, and sometimes an opponent has the game of their life. Sometimes you get speedbagged in hockey. It happens. You move on.
And yet. Losing Megan Rapinoe to the pitch monster three minutes into her final professional game, a game the team fought so hard to reach, one of the biggest club matches of a spectacular career... that lingers, that hurts. She deserved a better send-off. We all deserved a better send-off.
So now we pick up the pieces on a complicated OL Reign season, one with more good than bad, one with spectacular stories and moments of transcendent brilliance, one with delirious highs and staggering lows, and one that, as we've grown sadly all too used to, ended just short of the summit, second-best for the third time.
Playing for a championship again.
(Yeah, we all wish it had gone differently, but still – playing for a championship.)
The league is more competitive than ever. It might be a cliché, but in a league with no easy matches and no weekends off, the Reign are showing they belong to the elite even in years marked by tumult and uncertainty (and sketchy-as-fuck bullshit on the part of certain unnamed billionaire DeSantis donors), stealing a Shield from Portland on the final matchday of 2022 and fighting their way to a championship final after being largely written off after a messy midseason in 2023.
We've competed for trophies in a transitional period, and with new – and by all indications, local and heavily invested – ownership on the horizon, veteran leadership, some brilliant young players to watch develop, and a home that can finally fit our wildest dreams, we should expect to compete for a lot more going forward.
Losing a championship. Again.
There's not really any good way to lose a championship match, and we've done it three times now. There's always something. Amy Rodriguez playing out of her mind, Kansas City West in full fighting cosplay, Midge Purce playing out of her mind, a crushing injury to set the tone from the jump. Three times we've been here. Three times we've played hard, fought to the last whistle, and left it all on the pitch. Three times, after ninety minutes, we've gone home a goal short, a star short, and with more questions than answers.
The only era we've ever known as a team, the Megan Rapinoe Epoch, ends without a championship. That's always going to feel wrong. And we came so close, so tantalizingly close, so many times.
Footie is a cruel game.
- Former Reignmakers Ifeoma Onumonu, Allie Long, Taylor Smith and Michelle Betos won a title, along with one-time Reign defender Yael Averbuch as GM, who deserves a ton of credit for navigating NJ/NY Gotham FC out of some of the roughest times any women's soccer club has ever navigated.
- After the 20th minute, the Reign had absolutely no answer for Midge Purce. She beat Phoebe McClernon repeatedly. She beat Lauren Barnes repeatedly. She beat both of them at once repeatedly. Early in the second half, she cut out three defenders with a single touch. Sometimes a player just finds that extra gear and breaks the game. Unfortunately, it came against the Reign at the worst time.
- Bethany Balcer came on much earlier than expected to spell Rapinoe, and showed her growing sophistication as a playmaker with an exquisitely weighted through ball to Rose Lavelle for the then-tying goal. She's the genuine article, and her game keeps expanding year over year. She's still, somehow, astonishingly overlooked in the NWSL.
- Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly deserve good things and it's hard to be too upset about them winning this one.
- New York/New Jersey/New Hampster/New Haverbrook Gotham FC/SC/ASC should hold a fan celebration before 2024. Come on. You just won a title. Do you know how hard we'd be partying?!
And Another Thing!
It's over, but it's never over. Next season begins now. It hasn't always been a smooth ride following this team we love, but we're in it for the triumphs and defeats, the epic lows and highs. We're plus/minus four months from next season.
Lick your wounds, pet that stray cat, kiss the homies goodnight, and when tomorrow comes, remember it's never too early to get fucking hype.