Spirit Compete for First-Ever NWSL Title Against Chicago Red Stars

Washington Spirit  |   November 20, 2021
Spirit Compete for First-Ever NWSL Title Against Chicago Red Stars Featured Image

TACOMAQ, WA – NOVEMBER 14: Aubrey Bledsoe #1 of the Washington Spirit, Emily Sonnett #6 of the Washington Spirit and Paige Nielsen #14 of the Washington Spirit celebrate after a game between Washington Spirit and OL Reign at Cheney Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Tacomaq, Washington.

Luke Bennett

Louisville, KY (11/20/2021) – The Washington Spirit face the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, November 20 at 12:00 p.m. ET at Lynn Family Stadium. The match will be broadcast on CBS for fans in the United States and Twitch for international viewers.  

The Spirit

The Spirit advanced to the NWSL Final following a 2-1 victory on the road over second-seeded OL Reign in the NWSL semifinals. Despite surrendering a goal in the opening minutes of the contest, the Spirit scored two unanswered goals from Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez, in the first and second half respectively. This victory sent the Spirit to their first NWSL finals since 2016. 

Saturday’s NWSL Final matchup will mark the eleventh straight game, and a whopping 105 days, since the Spirit’s last defeat – this stat excludes the two forfeited matches that were not played in early September. With a win, Kris Ward will finish his tenure as interim head coach undefeated. 

The Spirit have faced the Chicago Red Stars three times this season, garnering a 0-2-1 record in those three. Chicago outscored the Spirit 5-2 in those matchups. 

Earlier this week, several Spirit players were recognized as recipients of leaguewide awards. Aubrey Bledsoe was recognized as the NWSL’s Goalkeeper of the Year. Bledsoe recorded eight clean sheets this season and has allowed only four goals in her last 10 matches. She has been pivotal in directing the backline the entire season and has anchored one of the best defenses in the entire league. However, she was a notable exclusion from the NWSL’s Best XI teams.

Trinity Rodman also earned the distinction as the league’s best newcomer, winning the NWSL Rookie of the Year award. Rodman netted seven goals and six assists this season and was invaluable member of the Spirit attack. Her defensive pressure and aggressive pace pushed opponents to the brink. 

Finally, Ashley Hatch earned the Golden Boot honor as the league’s top goalscorer with 10 regular-season goals. Her most recent goal, in extra time during the NWSL quarterfinals, sent the Spirit to the semifinals. Hatch along with Rodman were named starters on the NWSL’s Best XI first team. 

Look for the Spirit to ride the momentum they have accumulated over the last two months. The defensive trio of Sam Staab, Kelley O’Hara, and Emily Sonnett will prove crucial in limiting Chicago scoring chances.

The Opposition

The Chicago Red Stars reached the NWSL Final along a similar path as the Spirit. Entering the playoffs as a four-seed, the Red Stars had to win two consecutive matches to earn a spot in the championship game.

In the quarterfinals, the Red Stars defeated NY/NJ Gotham FC in a 1-0 slugfest. The winning goal was scored off the boot of Mal Pugh. In their last game, the Red Stars knocked off the top-seeded Portland Thorns on the road in a shocking 2-0 decision. The Red Stars smothered the Thorns’ attack while creating many offensive chances in their own end. 

Chicago enters the championship match with significant momentum of their own. The Red Stars have lost only twice since August 15 – both of which came against teams who made the NWSL playoffs – and have won five straight games, outscoring opponents 7-1 in that stretch. 

Chicago’s stringent defense is led by Sarah Gorden, one of four defenders recognized on the NWSL’s Best XI first team. Balance is an operative word for the Chicago offensive attack: Six different players have scored the Red Star’s last six goals. That said, Mal Pugh is no doubt the most crucial piece to the Red Star’s game plan. The 23-year-old midfielder’s availability came at the final training day after completing COVID protocols that excluded her from the semifinal match. 

Saturday’s championship matchup will no doubt be a game of destiny. Look for both teams to play tug-of-war in this battle of best form. 

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