The Playoffs are over, and the Spirit are Champions for the first time ever.
Yet another NWSL season is in the books, with the Washington Spirit winning the Championship over the Chicago Red Stars late last month. While they were unexpected champions, they were certainly deserving ones, and managed to prove that they had unbreakable team spirit (sorry) despite their hardships this year.
The game started off with the Red Stars on the front foot despite fielding an injury-impacted XI. Sure enough, they took the lead just before half-time via a close-range header from Rachel Hill. The Spirit rebounded quickly after the break, with Trinity Rodman nearly scoring a worldie and Dorian Bailey shooting wide from a dozen yards out.
Washington’s breakthrough came in the 67th minute when Tara McKeown was nastily taken down in the box, and Andi Sullivan made no mistake in putting it away to level the match. To their credit, the Spirit kept up the pressure on the Red Stars’ goal for the rest of normal time; Chicago, on the other hand, had only one shot in the second half. Oof.
After only six minutes of extra time, Washington took the lead with yet another header, this time by Kelley O’Hara. Trinity Rodman, who at this point was banging in crosses like she was Kevin de Bruyne, got the assist. Chicago had two more major chances at the end of the match, but it wasn’t enough for them to equalize. The whistle blew, and the Spirit, despite enduring a season from hell, became NWSL Champions for the first time.
It has been said one thousand times over, but it’s still dumbfounding that the Spirit managed to pull this off after…everything that’s happened. A banned coach, owner drama, and two separate COVID-related forfeits…it was a little too similar to the MagicJack fiasco a decade ago. But instead of folding, they somehow beat an ascendant OL Reign and a Red Stars team that pummeled them in the first half of the game. If that doesn’t speak to their unity as a team, it’s hard to know what does.
It’s touching to watch the Spirit cap off the season on a high, but many NWSL fans will be asking themselves one question: What do we watch now? The international break is winding down, and most European women’s leagues will be back in action soon enough. For fans of the OL Reign, Olympique Lyon Féminin––its sister club––might be an appealing team to watch in Division 1 Féminine. Still, if last month’s thrilling conclusion was anything to go by, next season––in an NWSL that actually holds its higher-ups accountable––can’t come soon enough.