In a year that saw upheaval and controversy across the top levels of the league, it was the team that eventually became the epicenter that came out on top. In a year of firsts, and in the 9-year history of the NWSL, neither of the top seeds advanced to the championship match.
Instead, it was the #3-ranked Washington Spirit facing off against #4-ranked Chicago Red Stars as both teams fought to win their first ever NWSL title.
The NWSL grabbed headlines this season when allegations of abuse in all forms league-wide were exposed as players spoke out. The Washington Spirit was at the forefront of this movement, and not for good reason. Not only did they bring attention to their issues, but demanded that ownership sell the team. The revelation of the allegation levied against Washington’s former head coach eventually prompted commissioner Cathy Englebert’s decision to step down. While the off-field issues within the league took over the spotlight, over half a million people tuned in to see two squads face-off, with a chance to take home their first-ever title.
On The Pitch
In a first half where the Red Stars dominated they were rewarded with a goal to go up 1-0 in stoppage time that was extended due to an injury to Mal Pugh (who wasn’t even on the pitch when it was scored due to said injury). The Spirit rallied in the second half to come out kicking. Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman, (yes you’ve heard that last name before but she doesn’t really like to talk about her famous dad), created chance after chance for her team to not only equalize but eventually take the lead. She crossed a beautiful ball into the 18-yard box to connect with veteran Kelley O’Hara’s head to put the Spirit in front. Captain Andi Sullivan had tied it earlier in the half, converting a penalty kick that came from a Tierna Davidson committed foul.
…..And Off Of It
There’s no doubt that the off-field drama likely bonded this team in a what was a most unusual season and led them to their first ever NWSL Championship. Both on and off the pitch. Turns out though, as is the case with many situations of abuse, that they weren’t the only team. In fact in just the last 24 hours news has surfaced that the Red Stars manager had often been accused of abuse as well. To the point where USWNT star Christen Press essentially forced her way into a trade from the team while also taking her concerns to US Soccer. And, as we all know, they are so great at handling controversy. Especially when it comes to their female players. (INSERT THE LARGEST EYE ROLL EVER).
The fact of the matter is that it shouldn’t have escalated to the levels that it has and become so widespread through a league. But for some inane reason we as a society only start to take allegations of abuse of women seriously when they come in large numbers as opposed to individual ones. But that’s a whole other conversation we should be having.
The NWSL certainly has a bit of an image problem to repair, especially when you consider that they only ever get national media coverage when there is turmoil. So that’s certainly not frustrating to die hard fans of the league or anything. But the good news is that we also get images like these when they celebrate. Here’s to more of these and to doing better by these women going forward.
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