HARRISON, New Jersey— Before the match started, a small ceremony took place for former Bayern Munich star Frauen Gina Lewandowski. A framed jersey was presented and many of Gina’s family members were by her side. Unbeknownst to them, a little girl broke away from the group, determined to play with the match ball placed at the feet of the officials.
A chorus of laughter broke out as Gina tried to stop the youngster from dribbling the ball much further. “Yes, that was my niece,” Gina told us. “The daughter of my sister.” A perfect moment of brevity before a night full of emotions.
Gina Lewandowski’s long and decorated career as a player is coming to an end. She played her last game on Saturday – a 3-0 defeat against the Chicago Red Stars. The terraces of Red Bull Arena filled with fans, family members and a host of alumni of his alma mater, Lehigh University. The stands were dotted with shirts acknowledging the many stages of her career – Gotham FC, the United States women’s national team, 1. FFC Frankfurt and most importantly FC Bayern Munich.
It’s been a tough season for the Pennsylvania native, who played less than 15 minutes in total going into this game. Her career has been as a utility defender, playing at right-back, centre-back and all the way into midfield. These three positions were taken by regular starters – including the title NWSL Defensive Player of the Year Caprice Dydasco. She made three substitute appearances and never started before this match.
Some slight signs of rust were present as a result. The first goal of the match came at 16′ on a low cross into the box. After a few rebounds, the ball fell on Chicago’s Sarah Luebbert. Gina was in front of Luebbert’s shot and she tried to block it. She couldn’t and Ashlyn Harris couldn’t put a diving glove on the ball until she picked it up in her own net.
From then on, Gina remained consistent, making the day a nightmare for Chicago forward Ella Stevens. Lewandowski’s challenges in the 20′, 24′, 39′ and 44′ kept the ball out of the net and further compounded the damage Gotham’s scoreline was taking.
That being said, it was clear that Chicago was the best team on the day, with the win putting them atop the NWSL standings. The second goal came at 25′, and this shot from Vanessa DiBernardo was not stopped by anyone.
Gina had a few tight chances to come out on a high and score her first goal for Gotham FC. She has been particularly gifted in the box from corners throughout her career, rising above the rest to put a header on the ball. At 62′, she almost sent the ball into the back of the net from a free kick, but her outstretched leg couldn’t find it.
As the match ended, the moment began to set in. When Gotham captain McCall Zerboni walked off the field, she handed the armband to the defender and USWNT veteran Ali Kreiger. Kreiger turned and passed it to Gina Lewandowski, who brought it to cheers and applause from the crowd. A third goal came in for Chicago after a fine header from a second-chance fly ball went over Gina’s head for Stevens to clean up.
After that, the time had come for an encore. Gina was taken off the field for the last time in her career.
It was certainly a fun and storied ride for Lewandowski. In case the Bayern faithful on the site need a reminder of his accolades:
- 115 appearances for Bayern Munich Frauen (most of his career)
- 18 goals for Bayern
- Three Frauen Bundesliga titles (2 with Bayern, 1 with FFC Frankfurt)
- Two DFB-Frauen Pokal titles
- UEFA Women’s Championship Champions League winner
- WPS Champion with Western New York Flash
With a career as long and storied as his own coming to an end, any player will need time to look back and realize that it’s over. She reflected that in the post-match press conference.
“I think it’s going to take time to reflect and process everything that’s happened over the last few days, the last few weeks, the last few months, the season. But, (I will have) some downtime which will allow me to do that and then focus on my next chapter,” Lewandowski said.
As for this next chapter, Lewandowski recently obtained his UEFA B license for coaching, which will provide him with plenty of opportunities:
“I’m definitely going to stay in the game. For me, you know, I have this passion to give back and I got that coaching license, so I think for me it’s just about playing that role and to give back to the game and to the people who have supported me over the years,” Lewandowski remarked.
I asked her if she would look back on any of her careers with a particular fondness, and she responded with the wisdom gained over a 15-year career – the recognition and appreciation that the efforts of a certain many people have taken her to where she is now.
“Gaming has given me so much in my life, personally. I’ve grown so much as a player but also as a person and just the relationships I’ve built over time – going across seas, just the people I’ve been exposed to. All the adventures that I’ve had. And I’m really lucky to have the career that I’ve had and I think the person that I’ve become over the past 15 years with the game has allowed me to be this best version of myself and I’m grateful to everyone who has been a part of it,” Lewandowski said.