Spirit won the NWSL title 2-1 in overtime over Red Stars
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kelly O’Hara scored in the 97th minute and the Washington Spirit won the Women’s National Football League title with a 2-1 overtime win over the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday.
The championship match tumultuously concludes the ninth season of the league. The Spirit has had to lose a couple of matches this season due to coronavirus issues. The team played under interim coach Chris Ward after Richie Burke was sent off in September for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy.
It was the first league championship for The Spirit, who advanced to the semi-finals with a 2-1 victory over second-seeded OL Reign.
O’Hara, a defender who was part of the US team that won the World Cup in 2015 and 2019, scored her first goal of the season. Her title-winning header into the back post came from a pass from Trinity Rodman, this year’s NWSL Rookie.
O’Hara called it “the best feeling ever” to finish the season as champions.
“I can’t describe it, because of everything we’ve been through, and the fact that we finish as NFL champions is so crazy and so special,” O’Hara said. “I am really proud of this team. People have no idea what we all went through, the resilience and perseverance of every player on this team is unbelievable.”
Mallory Pugh, who did not play in the semifinals due to COVID-19 protocol, started with the Red Stars but left the match in first-half injury time due to an apparent injury. Shortly after her departure, Rachel Hill scored a cross from Arjen Wright to give the Red Stars a 1-0 lead. Chicago beat top-seeded Portland Thorns 2-0 in the semi-finals.
Earlier in the game, Chicago’s Vanessa Dibernardo was injured.
Despite their struggles, Spirit’s roster included Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch and guard of the year Aubrey Bledsoe, as well as Rodman, the daughter of former NBA player Dennis Rodman.
“We beat a lot, but we did it together,” Bledsoe said. “We never give up, we never give in to each other, and this second half, it shows exactly who we are.”
Rodman almost equalized the match in the 61st minute with a shot from a distance that hit the post. But the spirit waned even after a short time when captain Andy Sullivan’s penalty kick beat out Chicago goalkeeper Cassie Miller.
Chicago had the opportunity in the second overtime with a Mackenzie Doniak shot, but Bledsoe saved it brilliantly.
“They’re definitely going to make a huge impact but they’re incredibly proud of the team and the players, they never quit,” Chicago coach Rory Dams said. “I got two chances late in the second overtime to keep trying to complicate it, and I think that kind of sums up the team. Never give up. They never stop. They always believed in themselves and each other and they played until the end, and as a coach that’s all you can ask for. “.
The Red Stars also played without goalkeeper Alyssa Naher, who was injured while playing for the United States team in the Olympics, as well as Julie Erts, who was injured most of the season, and Kylia Watt, who fell due to a knee injury. during the semi-finals.
Matches were canceled and players protested during the season after two former players accused North Carolina coach Paul Riley of sexual harassment and coercion, allegations he denied.
Burke’s expulsion came shortly before Riley’s, in the wake of serious allegations made against him by former players Sinead Farrelly and Manna Shim. Following these reports, NBA Commissioner Lisa Bird resigned and tasked the NFL and the American Football Association with conducting independent external investigations.
The league canceled a weekend of matches, and when play resumed players paused matches momentarily to congregate in a midfield circle, in a quiet display of unity.
Fans at Saturday’s game had signs that read “Sell the team, Steve,” a reference to soulmate Steve Baldwin.
OL Reign coach Fred Bensetti was also fired over the summer after an incident in practice where he was accused of behaving inappropriately.
Next season, the 10-team league will expand to 12 teams with the addition of Angel City FC in Los Angeles and San Diego Wave.
The reported attendance for the championship game at Lane Family Stadium was 10,360. This was the second time the title match had gone into overtime.
The game aired on CBS, a day after Nike announced that it had extended its sponsorship contract with the league.
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