An entertaining NWSL Championship ended on an incredibly dramatic note as NJ/NY Gotham FC goalkeeper Mandy Haught picked up a red card during her side's 2-1 win over the OL Reign, forcing midfielder Nealy Martin into goal in the dying minutes of the match.
The Reign made several efforts towards the end of the game to find an equalizer and seemed as close as ever in the 97th minute when they regained possession near goal. Substitute Elyse Bennett made a run at goal and Haught hesitated before making a save, and Rose Lavelle eventually sent the ball over the crossbar.
The refereeing team began to review the play to see if Haught touched the ball outside the penalty area, and after a VAR check, ruled that she did. Gotham's backup goalkeeper Michelle Betos readied herself to come in, but because the team was out of substitution windows, Martin had to play in goal for the last moments of the final.
The Reign were also awarded a free kick right outside the box but the attempt hit Gotham's wall, which allowed the eventual NWSL champions to see out the rest of the game. Martin ultimately had little to do but held down the fort for a few minutes before the game ended.
CBS Sports rules analyst Christina Unkel explained the situation after the game, saying the question was about whether she handled the ball outside of the box.
"And then all four considerations of what we call denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (DOGSO) -- distance, direction, likelihood of regaining the ball and preventing the attacker from being able to play it," Unkel said. "As soon as I saw the VAR review, I knew it was going to be sent down ... It is a DOGSO red card and proper decision with the last couple seconds of this game."
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Haught likely faces a ban to start the 2024 season but will likely consider it a small price to pay for her first NWSL winners' medal.
As for why there was no penalty kick awarded, it's because there was no infraction that happened inside the box. The semicircle at the top of the box is considered in the general field of play and is not considered inside of the box.