Why Washington Spirit’s NWSL Championship Is The Most Remarkable In American Sports History
LOUISVILLE – The ball grazed Trinity Rodman’s right leg and crossed the field perhaps 40 yards in the air, landing exactly where she intended: close to the edge of teammate Kelley O’Hara’s scalp. The NWSL championship will be decided instantly by a pair of teammates on opposite sides of a brilliant career.
In her first season with Washington Spirit, but more than a decade into her professional stint, O’Hara slipped too long. In her first season with Spirit, her first game in professional football, Rodman read it flawlessly and sent in a cross designed to make the most of that move. Although Chicago Red Stars’ Makenzy Doniak recovered to create at least one obstacle, O’Hara fought through it and headed the ball toward the opposite post. It was not a very strong shot, but it went over the goal line.
An NWSL season usually happens with anything but football was brought back to the essence of sport at the time, giving Spirit a 2-1 extra-time victory over the Red Stars and the NWSL championship. their first since entering the league as an original member in 2012.
“Honestly, I can’t really describe it, because of all that we’ve been through and the fact that we’re ending it as NWSL champions,” O’Hara said. with reporters afterwards. “It was pretty crazy and very special. I am very proud of this team. You don’t know what we’ve all been through.”
This is Washington’s third major team sports championship since 2018, but it’s quite different from the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup or Nationals a year later with a World Series title.
This is the most remarkable championship in American sports history. There has never been anything like it. This is both an acknowledgment of the Spirit as a team and a rebuke what their organization has allowed them to endure.
Although it requires the players involved to be skilled, dynamic, tough, fierce, tireless and – perhaps more than anything – resilient, victorious women and their admirable qualities in the often dire circumstances of the team is something no one wants to see repeat .
That includes the nature of Spirit’s only two defeats in three months under interim coach Kris Ward: disqualification because the team was accused of violating the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
“I don’t think it’s just me; I think it’s the whole group. It’s our ability to persevere,” said O’Hara. “What happened, we can’t change… The only thing we have control over is how we react and what we did with the last games of the season. Besides the losses, we haven’t lost since August, which is quite unbelievable. We almost only go into knockout after we’ve eliminated those – because we have to. We have no choice. We want to make it to the knockout round. We want to be NWSL champions. ”
There were signs in the South Zone asking Spirit owner Steve Baldwin to sell the team, others expressing support for the league’s players union. To be honest, there are hardly any in the “Team Go” order.
It was such a year for NWSL in general and for Spirit in particular. Their coach at the start of the season, Richie Burke, resigned in August for what was called “medical reasons” and was reassigned to the main office. He was “terminated for cause” nearly two months later, following an investigation into allegations of harassment and a toxic work environment. reported by the Washington Post.
Days after Burke was sacked, Carolina Courage fired coach Paul Riley following reports in The Athletic that several of his former players had accused him of sexual assault.
These became the defining moments of the 2021 NWSL season, just a year after the league won by becoming The first US team to continue to play after COVID shuts down and resolves its nagging TV problems by signing with CBS Sports.
The Washington-Chicago game drew a crowd of 10,360 appreciation, ranking as the third-biggest game in the history of the NWSL Championship, notably Game website has been moved here just a month earlier, when the players complained that playing in Portland meant they had to play the biggest game of the season at 9 a.m. local time. It was one more NWSL bug that had to be addressed, but at least this was worked out when it became an issue.
What happened on Saturday shouldn’t distract from the enormity of what took place off the field, but it did provide a prime example of the inherent value of the league.
“There was such a huge crowd, it was unbelievable. As for us, we’ve got fans here who are very loud, and so are they. It’s been a great arrival for both teams and the league as a whole,” Chicago quarterback Morgan Gautrat told Sporting News. “Obviously, it has been a very long year for every team for different reasons. There’s been a lot of adversity on and off the pitch, and I think it’s important to make this tournament better. But I think it was a great performance: 120 minutes, football from start to finish, good goals, excitement. So I think that’s great for the league. ”
Red Stars entered the game without Julie Ertz, without Alyssa Naeher, without Casey Krueger, without Kealia Watt (and without Kealia Ohai). You might as well have brought deep pizza and Navy Pier out of Chicago.
Not long after the game started, quarterback Vanessa DiBernardo left due to injury, and just before halftime, perhaps the last remaining Red Stars star, Mallory Pugh had to limp through the injury.
Chicago somehow scored the opening goal almost immediately after Pugh crossed the touchline and jogged in front of the stands, hoping to be able to continue or after the upcoming 15-minute break.
With only 10 Chicago players on the field and so much Pugh’s attention, the Red Stars faltered forward, seemingly intent on keeping the ball close to Washington’s goal to minimize Spirit’s chance to take advantage of the goal. number of troops. However, as left-back Arin Wright headed towards the corner, she made a quick move that tripped O’Hara, creating all the space needed for Wright to land a painful cross first. goal, eliminate all defenders and find winger Rachel Hill. narrowly headed into the net.
“I think it wouldn’t be fair to Washington to say they beat us today because of people we didn’t have,” said Chicago coach Roy Dames. “Losing Vanessa (DiBernardo) is very painful. Losing Mal (Pugh) is painful. But we’ve been next all year. We played the game. We lost. They won. Credit to them. ”
There will come a time, perhaps not long in the future, when it will no longer be necessary to identify Trinity Rodman, NWSL rookie of the year 2021, as the daughter of basketball board president Dennis Rodman. Her performance against the Red Stars could be seen as the first big step in that direction.
She dominated the second half, starting with a shot wide of the left post in the 61st minute and ending with a cross that gave her an assist for the winner in five minutes of extra time. .
In between was the energy she delivered that turned the game in favor of Spirit, including a dangerous cross in the 63rd minute. Two minutes later, the Red Stars were so exasperated that defender Tierna Davidson committed a foul. direct error with Tara McKeown right in front of goal. Spirit was awarded a penalty, and captain Andi Sullivan stepped forward to land her shot just under goakeeper Cassie Miller to equalize (pictured below).
“The journey is long. It’s not what I expected from my first season,” said Rodman. “But the team that I was with, they were amazing. I searched for them one by one. I made friends with every single person in my group.
“We worked really hard. We didn’t give up. We want to win. And I think we want that more than all the other teams in this league, and I think that’s why we got there. ”