NWSL: How Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars reached the final

Trinity Rodman of Washington Spirit celebrates after scoring against Houston Dash at Audi Field on October 31, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars will battle it out this evening in the National Women’s Soccer League Final.

By November 14th, four had become two. The NWSL post-season is upon us and the two finalists became known at the weekend. Portland Thorns may be one of the most decorated teams in the brief history of this league and they may have been the top seed, but it wasn’t to be.

The Thorns and OL Reign fell at the hurdle, meaning there is guaranteed to be a new champion. But who will it be?

The tale of the tape

The whole league has been through mass turmoil throughout this year and chaos on the pitch has been a key theme throughout.

This is evident with the two lower ranked clubs advancing to the NWSL Championship match.

Chicago Red Stars’ game was under threat as Mallory Pugh and Kayla Sharples were ruled out via Covid protocol. It went ahead anyway, much to the delight of the supposed underdogs. Meanwhile, it was weather that played the jeopardy role in Washington’s clash with OL Reign, this one also played out uninterrupted though.

OL Reign vs Washington Spirit

It was the Reign vs Spirit game — an interesting Washington state vs Washington DC encounter — that came first and the latter gained an early lead courtesy of Eugenie Le Sommer.

The French forward poked home the opener with thanks to a great ball from the iconic Megan Rapinoe.

This dream start for Reign was about as good as it got in truth. For the remainder of the game, they put up 22 more shots, but only two of them were on target.

A certain NWSL upstart Trinity Rodman struck back for Washington Spirit, and shortly after Rapinoe went close at the other end, a long ball from Staab found the 19-year-old once again, who finished with great aplomb.

Le Sommer squandered a good chance in the second half and Reign were again punished for this. A superbly smart chip from Ashley Sanchez at an acute angle had seven-time Champions League winner Sarah Bouhaddi done all ends up.

Reign had the home advantage but it was in fact the travelling Washington Spirit who prevailed, booking their place in the NWSL Championship match.

Portland Thorns vs Chicago Red Stars

Now to the Portland game against Chicago, and as previously mentioned, the latter had two absentees due to Covid.

Meanwhile, Crystal Dunn is still on the sidelines being pregnant and all while an eye injury kept her USWNT co-star Lindsey Horan out of action. In spite of the negative impact this has on the Thorns, they were still the top NWSL seed.

Portland dominated the game in both shots and possession at Providence Park, as was widely predicted. What wasn’t quite as likely was that the Red Stars would score with their only two shots on target.

Rory Dames’ side found the back of the net either side of the break through Katie Johnson and Sarah Woldmoe. Johnson didn’t start the game but was sent on to replace Kealia Watt after just 30 minutes, scoring shortly after.

Remarkably, North Carolina have featured in the last three NWSL Championship matches, winning two of them. Portland won one and lost one against the Courage before Chicago came up short last time out.

One last push

Washington will take on Chicago in the rearranged destination of Kentucky. Saturday’s game will take place at the home of NWSL side Racing Louisville. Who will prevail and win their first title?

This is not only the first time that these two teams have clashed in the final but it is also the first time that it hasn’t featured either of the top two seeds. Chicago lost at this stage last time around, while this is Washington’s first taste of the big time since 2016.

Back in June, the pair met in Illinois and the spoils were shared. NWSL Rookie of the Year elect Trinity Rodman scored late on only for an added time penalty from Morgan Gautrat to rescue a point for the Red Stars.

They met twice more in the NWSL regular season. Chicago won thanks to an own goal in Washington before Rodman and Gautrat were again on target in the return to Toyota Park.

Sadly for Rodman and co though, USWNT forward Mallory Pugh and Rachel Hill had done the damage in the first half. The two are clearly very even with a series of 1-1-1.

The Spirit finished a point ahead of the Red Stars in the regular season and albeit by a point, they are the slight favourites on that basis. It really is a flip-of-the-coin game though, as is any final/knockout style game.

After 2020 saw no winner due to the curtailment of the season, the tension is as high as ever and will only intensify between now and the weekend’s must-watch match.

MORE from Her Football Hub: