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Live Life Deliberately

Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger are retiring. First, they have a final to play.

SAN DIEGO — Late in this National Women’s Soccer League season, as their retirements neared and their teams made desperate pushes for playoff berths, Megan Rapinoe asked Ali Krieger when and where her last game for NJ/NY Gotham FC would be.

Krieger knew Rapinoe, who plays for Seattle’s OL Reign, was referring to the regular season finale in mid-October, yet she decided to have fun with her answer.

“What do you mean? November 11,” the date of the championship game, Krieger said. “No doubt in my mind.”

They laughed about it, then got to thinking: Maybe they could push their last seasons to the very end, to Snapdragon Stadium on Saturday night for a title that has eluded both organizations since the league launched in 2013.

“Now we’re here, and we’re just kind of like, ‘Wow, we really did it,’ ” Krieger said, smiling.

“Only one of us is going to be able to win, and that’s going to be sad for whoever the person that doesn’t win,” Rapinoe said. “But it’s really special.”

Krieger, a 39-year-old defender from Dumfries, Va., announced at the start of the year that this would be her 17th and final pro season. Rapinoe, a 38-year-old winger from Redding, Calif., declared before the World Cup this summer she would end her 15-year career this fall.

Until the final moments on the last day of the regular season, it was not even certain their teams would qualify for the playoffs. Retirement was knocking. Both clubs, though, earned results they needed as OL Reign clinched the No. 4 seed and Gotham the sixth — and last — slot.

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First-round victories were followed by semifinal upsets on the road as OL Reign knocked off the top-seeded San Diego Wave and Gotham edged the No. 2 Portland Thorns, the reigning champions.

OL Reign forward Jordyn Huitema said that, after each late-season victory, the players would say to Rapinoe: “Hey Pinoe! Guess what? You’re still going!’”

Huitema added: “We’ve been pushing to make sure it’s not her last game until it has to be. We want to give her what she deserves.”

And so Rapinoe and Krieger — longtime U.S. teammates who won the 2015 and 2019 World Cup titles together but have never been NWSL colleagues or champions — find themselves taking the stage together for the final act of their sterling soccer careers.

“It’s really poetic,” Krieger said.

Rapinoe has had the more spectacular tenure, as a scorer, provider and outspoken advocate in sports and human rights forums. She was toasted by the national team during her U.S. farewell match in September in Chicago. Then, in case OL Reign missed the playoffs, the club used the final regular season home game at Lumen Field for another emotional goodbye. CBS carried it live.

“Everybody’s like, ‘Enough!’ ” Rapinoe said, laughing about the multiple festivities.

Krieger, whose national team career ended almost three years ago, received a home tribute from Gotham FC last month at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

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Saturday’s game will, first and foremost, celebrate the teams.

“I’m obviously cognizant it’s my last game ever for anything, but also this is everybody’s last game this year,” Rapinoe said. “So it takes a little bit of the focus off me, which is welcomed.”

Rapinoe has spent her entire NWSL career with OL Reign, which is making its third championship appearance. Krieger, a Forest Park High and Penn State graduate, started with the Washington Spirit and played five years in Orlando before moving to Gotham last season.

Though they were never club teammates, they forged a bond on the national team over 13 years and remained close friends.

At their first U.S. training camp together 15 years ago, Rapinoe met Krieger and thought, “Who is this German girl?”

Krieger had begun her pro career in Germany, where she had taken to the culture. In German, her last name means “warrior.” On her inner left arm, a tattoo reads, “liebe,” which translates to “love.”

Krieger’s first impression of Rapinoe?

“Who is this skinny little … she had legs like tampon strings out there,” she said.

They soon realized they shared a wicked sense of humor, among other traits.

“Right away, we just hit it off,” Rapinoe said. “We’re serious about what we’re doing on the field but also like to enjoy ourselves and realize this is a really unique journey that we’re on, and we want to celebrate and maximize everything we can together.”

Rapinoe added: “She’s just a really good human, too. You play with a million people … but she’s one of my best friends in life and will continue to be so. For both of us, it is a really special moment to be able to celebrate. I know if I win [Saturday], she’ll be happy for me, and if she wins, I’ll be thrilled for her.”

Krieger turned to Rapinoe for emotional support this summer when Krieger’s marriage to former teammate Ashlyn Harris was collapsing. The couple filed for divorce in September.

“She has been rock-solid for me as a best friend,” Krieger said. “We’re always going to be there for each other, and it goes far beyond the playing field, and that’s something I really cherish and nurture forever.”

With Rapinoe’s help, Krieger said she has been able to focus on soccer — and one of the best seasons of her career. She was voted to the Best XI all-league team and named a finalist for defender of the year.

“We’re trying to get one more year out of her,” Gotham teammate Delanie Sheehan said. “She looks like she can go at least a few more.”

Krieger, though, is ready to go.

“I knew that until the 20-year-olds are running past me that maybe it’s not time to hang up the boots,” she said. “And then I started having kids, and I think my perspective changed a little bit.”

Krieger and Harris have a daughter who is almost 3 and a 15-month-old son.

Win or lose Saturday, Krieger said she might sit on the field for a bit and “soak it in one last time.”

“Before I go home,” she said, “I want to take time to myself to decompress because I’m going to be in mom mode right when I land.”

Rapinoe will return to her fiancée, retired basketball star Sue Bird.

“I look at my entire career and just think: ‘This is f—ing crazy,’” she said. “I can’t believe I’m here getting to still play the game I love at 38, to have the success I’ve had with my teammates not only here but with the national team. I would love to get that one last little thing.”


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