Spirit wins NWSL title 2-1 in extra time over Red Stars

  • Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh (9) and Washington Spirit defender Emily Sonnett (6) fight for the ball during the first half of the NWSL Championship in Louisville, Ky.

    Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh (9) and Washington Spirit defender Emily Sonnett (6) fight for the ball during the first half of the NWSL Championship in Louisville, Ky. Associated Press

  • Washington Spirit's Tegan McGrady (9) and Andi Sullivan (12) kneel during the national anthem prior to the NWSL Championship against the Chicago Red Stars, Saturday

    Washington Spirit's Tegan McGrady (9) and Andi Sullivan (12) kneel during the national anthem prior to the NWSL Championship against the Chicago Red Stars, Saturday Associated Press

  • Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo (10) is surrounded by teammates after being injured during the first half of the NWSL Championship on Saturday.

    Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo (10) is surrounded by teammates after being injured during the first half of the NWSL Championship on Saturday. Associated Press

  • Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh (9) dribbles the ball during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer match against the Washington Spirit.

    Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh (9) dribbles the ball during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer match against the Washington Spirit. Associated Press

  • Supporters cheer after Chicago Red Stars forward Rachel Hill scores a goal during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer match against the Washington Spirit, Saturday.

    Supporters cheer after Chicago Red Stars forward Rachel Hill scores a goal during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer match against the Washington Spirit, Saturday. Associated Press

  • Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Cassie Miller (38) celebrates after Rachel Hill scored a goal during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer match against the Washington Spirit, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Louisville, Ky.

    Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Cassie Miller (38) celebrates after Rachel Hill scored a goal during the first half of the NWSL Championship soccer match against the Washington Spirit, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/20/2021 6:04 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kelley O'Hara scored in the 97th minute and the Washington Spirit won the National Women's Soccer League championship with a 2-1 extra time victory over the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday.

The championship game closes a tumultuous ninth season for the league. The Spirit had to forfeit a pair of games this season because of coronavirus issues. The team played under interim coach Kris Ward after Richie Burke was fired in September for violating the league's anti-harassment policy.

 

It was the first league championship for the Spirit, who advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over second-seeded OL Reign.

O'Hara, a defender who was on the U.S. national team that won the World Cup in 2015 and 2019, scored her first goal of the season. Her game-winning, back-post header came off a pass from Trinity Rodman, the NWSL Rookie of the Year.

O'Hara called it "the best feeling ever" to be ending the season as champions.

"I can't describe it, because of everything we've been though, and the fact that we're ending it as NWSL champions is pretty crazy and very special," O'Hara said. "I'm really proud of this team. People have no idea what we've all gone through, and the resiliency and the perseverance of every single player on this team is pretty incredible."

Mallory Pugh, who didn't play in the semifinals because of COVID-19 protocol, started for the Red Stars but left the game in first-half stoppage time with an apparent injury. Shortly after her departure, Rachel Hill scored off a cross from Arin Wright to give the Red Stars a 1-0 lead. Chicago downed the top-seeded Portland Thorns 2-0 in the semifinal.

Earlier in the game, Chicago's Vanessa DiBernardo was subbed off with an injury.

Despite their struggles, the Spirit's roster included Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch and Goalkeeper of the Year Aubrey Bledsoe, as well as Rodman, the daughter of former NBA player Dennis Rodman.

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"We've overcome so much, but we did it together," Bledsoe said. "We never quit, we never gave up on each other, and that second half, that shows exactly who we are."

Rodman nearly tied the game in the 61st minute with a blast from distance that hit the post. But the Spirit pulled even a short time later when captain Andi Sullivan made a penalty kick that beat Chicago goalkeeper Cassie Miller.

Chicago had a chance in the second extra time period on Makenzy Doniak's shot, but it was deftly stopped by Bledsoe.

"Certainly going to sting but incredibly proud of the team and the players, they never quit," Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. "Got two chances late in the second overtime to still try to knot it up, and I think that kind of epitomizes the team. They never give up. They never stop. They always beleived in themselves and each other and hey played until the end, and as a coach that's all you can ask."

The Red Stars were also playing without goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who was injured while playing for the United States in the Olympics, as well as Julie Ertz, who was hurt for most of the season, and Kaelia Watt, who went down with a knee injury during the semifinal.

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