NWSL final yields storylines for all fans

OPINION

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe, center, passes the ball as San Diego Wave defender Christen Westphal defends Sunday in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe, center, passes the ball as San Diego Wave defender Christen Westphal defends Sunday in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

My Trinity Rodman fandom had already started before her performance in the 2021 National Women's Soccer League final, but the rising star cemented her rookie of the year season with a MVP level performance in leading the Washington Spirit to a 2-1 win.

In fact, she would've won the MVP award in the final if she wasn't 19 years old in a year the award was sponsored by an alcohol company.

Although I haven't watched the NWSL as closely this season as I have in recent memory, Saturday's final between OL Reign and Gotham FC does yield some tasty storylines, and perhaps it can bring a few eyes to a professional league of quality in the United States.

Almost reaching NFL levels of parity in terms of you're just never quite sure who is going to win from game-to-game or who might win the championship at the end of the season, the NWSL puts out a good product.

Gotham finished in the sixth and final playoff spot at the end of the regular season, but the club's point total was 31, just six points off regular-season Shield winner San Diego. The Orlando Pride and Washington Spirit just missed out on the playoffs with 31 and 30 points respectively.

The last-place Chicago Red Stars ended the season just seven points shy of the playoffs, showing everyone in the league truly had a chance late into the season.

A storyline you can already see developing is that the last team to make it into the postseason clawed its way to the final with two-consecutive clean sheets. Not only did Gotham make the final after finishing sixth this season, but the club's 2022 season was dreadful.

Gotham finished in last place in the league with just 13 points last year, 20 points away from the playoffs. It's been a turnaround year for the club, and the squad has a chance to end the season with a championship in its first ever NWSL final appearance.

While OL Reign has a history of always being near or at the top of the league come the end of the regular season -- they were Shield winners in 2022 -- the playoffs just haven't been kind to the team. The Reign made the finals in 2014 and 2015, losing both matches.

While it's a major deal for both teams to be fighting for their first NWSL title, Reign's Megan Rapinoe and Gotham's Ali Krieger are both playing in their final matches as professionals in the championship game.

Both Rapinoe and Krieger announced their retirement before their respective squads made the title game, and the script writers couldn't have written a better ending to the careers of two American soccer legends.

Rapinoe is known both in and out of soccer for her activism, activities and outspokenness off the pitch, but anyone who watched her throughout her career knows just how talented and special of a player she has been. Although now well past her prime and not having the same impact she did on matches in the past, she's still capable of producing that one moment of magic.

Krieger might not be a household name in the same way Rapinoe is, but the Gotham defender started in the 2015 World Cup final victory for the United States women's national team, and she came on as a sub in the 2019 final win.

Two clubs battling for their first title, two legends facing off in their final match. We watch sports for occasions like this.

The final will no doubt have some college football to compete with Saturday in the 7 p.m. window. But with a primetime kickoff on big CBS, it might just be worth it to tune in.

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