A Tale of Two Upsets: The Spirit and Red Stars Advance to the Final

Both teams will be gunning for the Championship on Saturday.

By Alexandra Cadet

Oftentimes, soccer fans forget to expect the unexpected when it comes to important matches. They assume––sometimes correctly––that a weaker, injury-riddled team has no chance of beating a star-studded squad at the top of their game. This was the trap that a few NWSL fans had fallen into before the Playoff semis, which saw the Thorns and Reign face off against lower-seeded opponents. So naturally, this happened: 

  1. The Washington Spirit defeated No. 2 OL Reign 2–1, advancing to the Final
  1. The Chicago Red Stars won against Shield winners Portland Thorns 2–0, advancing to the Final as well

Somehow, the Red Stars pulled out a victory last week. Leading up to the game, things were looking bleak for Chicago, mostly because of the fact that two of their best players were unavailable. And their disadvantages continued on the pitch: they were outshot 21–5 (!!!), Cassie Miller had to make six saves, and Kealia Watt was hooked due to injury. Then Katie Johnson capitalized off of a keeping error in the thirty-seventh minute, scoring at the second-weirdest angle seen in the playoffs thus far. Of course, an upset isn’t complete without a worldie, and Sarah Woldmoe delivered in the second half, sending the Red Stars to the final. 

Elsewhere, the Spirit took down the OL Reign to keep their inspiring season going. It seemed that the Reign would cruise to a victory once Eugénie Le Sommer scored the earliest goal in playoff history. But remember: expect the unexpected. The Reign––especially Le Sommer––proceeded to miss absolute sitters after that strong opening. Eventually the ball bounced awkwardly for Trinity Rodman in the box, and she made no mistake in putting it away. Oh, and remember how Johnson scored at an impossible angle versus the Thorns? The Spirit’s second goal is impossible-squared. 

The Spirit celebrate after their first goal in the semis. (Courtesy of Washington Spirit)

The Spirit’s coaching staff and bench cheered loudly at the full-time whistle, and no one can blame them for doing so. Even if they don’t win the title tomorrow, the fact that they got to this point after everything they’ve been through speaks to the importance of player power in this sport. When a team wins, the managers and owners receive the brunt of the praise from casual fans. After all, it’s much easier to celebrate a handful of people than an entire squad. But the Spirit managed to reach the Championship final with a revolving door of managers, a toxic owner, and a COVID-19 outbreak. If that doesn’t make people acknowledge the resilience of these players, it’s hard to tell what will.

Both the Red Stars and the Spirit will hope to clinch their first-ever Championship on Saturday. Hopefully, the final will be every bit as thrilling as last week’s––and shatter our expectations in the process.

The 2021 NWSL Championship Game will take place on Saturday, November 20th, at 12:00 PM ET.

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