The NWSL Championship, in many ways, signals the passing of a torch.
All eyes will be on the OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe and NJ/NY Gotham FC’s Ali Krieger, whose storied careers will end on Saturday with one last trophy on the line. While one of the U.S. women’s national team veterans will get to ride off into the sunset with their first NWSL title, the pair will hit the pitch alongside a group of younger talents that are expected to shine at Snapdragon Stadium — and for years to come in the league.
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Here are some players who are poised to impress in San Diego.
Veronica Latsko, OL Reign
The Reign really spread the goals around during the regular season, with the likes of Bethany Balcer and Jordyn Huitema leading the team with seven goals each. It’s veteran forward Veronica Latsko, though, who has stolen the show in the postseason.
The 27-year-old scored the game-winner in the Reign’s playoff wins over Angel City and the San Diego Wave, becoming a very reliable option in attack. Her overall performances speak to the fact that the Reign’s offense likes to share responsibility — she had five shots over both games, in which the Seattle-based side notched 18 total attempts, but no starter had more than three in either game.
Jenna Nighswonger, NJ/NY Gotham FC
The Rookie of the Year contender has been nothing short of impressive, especially considering the fact that Nighswonger was converted from forward to fullback this season. She, alongside her counterpart on the right, Bruninha, have been central to Gotham’s offense — head coach Juan Carlos Amoros prefers his attacks to build on the wings, allowing the forward-thinking Nighswonger to excel.
Expect her and Bruninha to once again serve as the focal point for the team’s attack whenever they get ahold of the ball, as well as contribute to the team’s impressive defense. The east coasters have yet to concede in the playoffs, thanks in large part to their ability to defend as a unit.
Rose Lavelle, OL Reign
If there’s one wild card in the championship, it’s Lavelle. She missed much of the season but started her first game since September in the Reign’s semifinal win over the Wave last week. She showed signs of her trademark self with an 84.6% passing accuracy in the final third that day and one chance created, as well as two shots.
With the standout attacking midfielder fit for the season finale, she will provide quite the boost for the Reign as they look to unlock a stingy Gotham defense — and hopefully true to form, provide a few highlight reel worthy moments along the way.
Lynn Williams, NJ/NY Gotham FC
The NWSL Best XI selectee has quite a track record in the NWSL’s championship game — this will be the sixth time in the league’s 10 year history that her team will compete for the title. Williams’ teams have won on three of those occasions, and she could be impactful enough to pick up a fourth.
Williams had seven goals this season and ranked third in the league for expected goals with 8.15, behind only Ashley Hatch and Alex Morgan. She also ranked first for shots with 85 and second for shots on goal with 36, which makes her an important option for Gotham in attack even if she is yet to score in the postseason. She’s also an influential team player after getting an assist to Yazmeen Ryan’s strike in the quarterfinal win over the North Carolina Courage and demonstrating her defensive work rate throughout the playoff run.
Honorable mention: Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger
The veterans are not only making the list because of their legacies, but because they have been performing at a high enough level that they could make a major difference on Saturday.
Rapinoe has not lost the ability to deliver in big moments, as was the case during the Reign’s 3-0 win at the Chicago Red Stars on Decision Day. She scored a brace that day to ensure not only that her side would earn a playoff berth, but would play at home one final time in the quarterfinals. She also racked up shots during their postseason run and is an active participant in attack and has the potential to cap off her career in perfect fashion.
Krieger, meanwhile, put in the type of performances this season that earned her a nomination for NWSL Defender of the Year. Take this jaw-dropping stat as an example — the average league defender was dribbled past 32.2% of the time this season, but Krieger’s dribbled past rate was just 4.8%. She boasts equal ability to come in clutch for her side to collect their first championship, especially as Gotham’s defense has been the star of their playoff push.