HARRISON, N.J. — Before the match began, a small ceremony was held for former Bayern Munich Frauen star Gina Lewandowski. A framed jersey was presented and many members of Gina’s family were by her side. Unbeknownst to all of them, a little girl broke off from the group, determined to play with the match ball which was placed at the feet of the officials.
A chorus of laughs broke out as Gina tried to corral the youngster from dribbling the ball much further. “Yes, that was my niece,” Gina told us. “My sister’s daughter.” A perfect moment of levity before a night full of emotions.
Gina Lewandowski’s long and decorated career as a player has come to a close. She played her final match Saturday — a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Red Stars. The terraces at Red Bull Arena filled up with fans, family and a host of fellow alumni of her alma mater, Lehigh University. The stands were dotted with jerseys acknowledging the many stops of her career — Gotham FC, the U.S. Women’s National Team, 1. FFC Frankfurt, and especially FC Bayern Munich.
It’s been a tough season for the Pennsylvania native, who played less than 15 total minutes before this game. Her career was made as a utilitarian defender, playing right-back and center-back. Those positions have been taken by consistent starters — including reigning NWSL Defensive Player of the Year Caprice Dydasco. She made three substitute appearances and never started until this game.
The first goal of the game came in the 16’ off a low cross into the box. After a couple bounces, the ball fell to Chicago’s Sarah Luebbert. Gina made a switch to cover one of her teammates losing a marker and was in front of Luebbert’s shot. She made an extra effort to block it, but just missed. Ashlyn Harris couldn’t get a diving glove on the ball until she picked it up out of her own net.
From that point on, Gina stayed consistent, making the day a nightmare for Chicago striker Ella Stevens. Lewandowski’s challenges in the 20’, 24’, 39’, and 44’ kept the ball out of the net and further compounding the damage Gotham’s score was taking.
That being said, it was clear Chicago was the better team on the day, with the win taking them atop the NWSL standings. The second goal came on the 25’, and this blast from Vanessa DiBernardo wouldn’t be stopped by anyone.
Gina had a few close chances to go out on a high note and score her first goal for Gotham FC. She’s been especially good in the box on corners throughout her career, rising above the rest to put a head on the ball. In the 62’, she came close to heading the ball into the back of the net off a free kick. An extra effort to poke it home was close but couldn’t find the net.
As the match wore down, the moment began to set in. As Gotham captain McCall Zerboni came off the pitch, Gina got the armband, who put it on to a round of cheers and applause from the crowd. A third goal went in for Chicago after a beautiful header from a second chance ball looped over Gina’s head for Stevens to clean up.
Following that, the time had come for a curtain call. Gina was taken off the pitch for the final time of her career.
It was certainly a fun ride and a storied one for Lewandowski. In case the Bayern faithful on the site need reminding of her accolades:
- 115 appearances for Bayern Munich Frauen (most of her career)
- 18 goals for Bayern
- Three Frauen Bundesliga titles (2 with Bayern, 1 with FFC Frankfurt)
- Two DFB-Frauen Pokal titles
- UEFA Women’s Champions League winner
- WPS Champion with Western New York Flash
With the end of a career as long and storied as hers, any player will need time to look back and understand that it’s over. She reflected that in the post-game press conference.
“I think it’s gonna take some time to reflect and process everything that’s been going on these last few days, last few weeks, months, the season. But, (I’ll) have some down time which is gonna be for me to do that and then focus on my next chapter,” Lewandowski said.
As for what that next chapter holds, Lewandowski recently earned her UEFA B-license for coaching, which will bring plenty of opportunities to her:
“I’m definitely gonna stay in the game. For me, you know, I have that passion of giving back and I got that coaching license so I think for me it’s just taking that role and give back to the game and to the people that have supported me over the years,” Lewandowski remarked.
I asked her if she’ll look back on any of her career with a particular fondness, and she answered with the wisdom earned over a 15-year career — the recognition and appreciation that effort from a number of people led to where she is now.
“The game has brought me so much in my life, personally. I’ve grown so much as a player but also as a person and just the relationships that I’ve built over time — going over seas, just the people I was exposed to. All the adventures that I’ve had. And I’m just really blessed to have the career that I’ve had and I think just the person I’ve become over the last 15 years with the game got me to be that better version of myself and I’m grateful for everyone who’s been a part of it,” Lewandowski said.
[This article has been updated]