Photo: Daniel Bartel / ISI Photos
BOYDS, Md (Sept 29, 2016) – Following two straight years of playing NWSL semifinal playoff games on the road, the Washington Spirit (12-5-3, 39 pts) will host its first ever NWSL playoff when it welcomes Chicago Red Stars (9-5-6, 33 pts) to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Friday, September 30 at 8 p.m. ET.
The Spirit clinched the first home playoff match in franchise history by finishing second in the regular season standings, while the Red Stars finished just behind the Spirit in third place. The match will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1 and will be available for live and on-demand streaming via the FOX Sports GO app and online at FOXSportsGO.com.
“We are all excited to host and play in the NWSL semifinal,” said Spirit general manager and head coach Jim Gabarra. “It has been a tremendously successful and rewarding season so far. The focus is on Chicago and putting in the level of performance that we have seen almost every game.”
When the two teams met on the last day of the regular season September 24 in Chicago, the Red Stars pulled out a victory with goals from Christen Press, Cara Walls, and Sofia Huerta. An early second half Spirit goal from Crystal Dunn was not enough to overcome Chicago. However, the last time the two sides met at the Maryland SoccerPlex on July 9, it was the Spirit who was victorious with a 2-0 win on the heels of goals from Argentine international Estefania Banini and forward Katie Stengel.
Although the Spirit and the Red Stars have split their matches this season, the Spirit owns a dominating record lifetime over the Chicago side with 6 wins, 3 losses, and a draw, with only one of those losses coming at home back on July 10, 2013.
This season, the Spirit’s defensive unit has been a major factor in the side’s success, only allowing five goals at home – the fewest of all teams in the NWSL. The defensive performance helped the Spirit achieve a league-leading 720 minutes in the lead during the 2016 season, 114 more minutes than its closest competitors – Chicago Red Stars. The depth of the Spirit’s roster means Gabarra could start a number of defenders, including Ali Krieger, Caprice Dydasco, and Estelle Johnson.
Offensively, Dunn, the 2015 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner, has scored two goals in the Spirit’s last three matches and has a career high five assists this season. Banini, who leads the team with five goals in 2016, returned from injury in the Spirit’s last match against Chicago. Stengel, Joanna Lohman, and Diana Matheson have all provided offensive fireworks in key moments and will look to do the same Friday night.
As previously announced, the Spirit will present 2016 U.S. Paralympic 7-a-side soccer team member Josh Brunais as Honorary Captain for the match. Fans can purchase tickets to the NWSL semifinal playoff at tickets.washingtonspirit.com or by calling 301-337-8579
The winner will advance to the 2016 NWSL Championship at the pre-determined site of BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, October 9 at 5 p.m. ET and will also be televised on FOX Sports 1. This would be the first NWSL Championship appearance for either team.