2021 NWSL Championship: Washington Spirit vs. Chicago Red Stars

The 2021 NWSL Final will feature the Washington Spirit (pictured) and the Chicago Red Stars
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The 2021 NWSL final is set. On Saturday, the Washington Spirit will take on the Chicago Red Stars at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky (CBS, 12pm ET).

The championship game – which was initially slated for Portland, Oregon – was moved to Louisville after players raised issues about the 9am local start time on the west coast (the result of the TV window on CBS). In October, the NWSL and NWSL Players Association announced the venue change in a joint statement.

UPDATE: Washington Spirit win 2021 NWSL championship (video highlights)

In addition to the game broadcast on CBS, Orlando Pride players Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger will join Lori Lindsey for a 30-minute pregame show on Paramount+ at 11:30am ET.

Semifinal Recap: Chicago and Washington overcome adversity to reach 2021 NWSL Final

The No. 3 Washington Spirit qualified for the 2021 NWSL final with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over No. 2 OL Reign.

Just three minutes into Sunday’s semifinal matchup, Reign forward Megan Rapinoe crossed the ball to Eugénie Le Sommer, who found the back of the net. It marked the fastest goal in NWSL playoff history (video below).

Despite the early goal, Washington fought back. NWSL rookie Trinity Rodman recorded the equalizer in the 12th minute, while 2021 Golden Boot honoree Ashley Sanchez nabbed the game winner in the 68th minute with a rebound off a corner kick (video embedded below).

With the win, the Spirit extended its unbeaten streak to eight straight games – an impressive accomplishment given the turmoil the team has dealt with in recent months, from coach Richie Burke being fired following abuse allegations to a power struggle between the team’s owners to a Covid outbreak that resulted in two forfeited games in September (marking the last time the team “lost”).

“I don’t think this team gets enough credit,” defender Emily Sonnett told the Washington Post after the Sunday’s semifinal win.

2021 NWSL TIMELINE: Amid league failures, players reclaim control

The No. 1 Portland Thorns entered the other semifinal as the favorite thanks to their 2021 NWSL Shield (awarded to the team with the best regular season record), 2021 Challenge Cup win, and 2021 Women’s International Champions Cup win. But it was the No. 4 Chicago Red Stars that emerged victorious.

Both teams entered the semifinal round missing key players.  The Thorns lacked midfielder Lindsey Horan (eye injury) and Crystal Dunn (who announced her pregnancy last week), while Chicago was missing Mallory Pugh (Covid protocols), Kayla Sharples (Covid protocols), Casey Krueger (illness), as well as Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher (who are both recovering from long-term injuries).

Chicago’s roster situation looked even more dire after forward Kaelia Watt left the match in the 29th minute after sustaining a knee injury, but Katie Johnson – who subbed in for Watt – went on to score the eventual game winner in the 37th minute (video embedded below). Sarah Woldmoe then extended Chicago’s lead to 2-0 in the 59th minute.

After the match, Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby – who was inconsolable when the final whistle sounded – shared that her father died by suicide earlier in the week. “I’ve surprised myself by how strong I’ve been, but I couldn’t hold it anymore. My playing for this city meant so much to him,” Bixby wrote on Twitter.

Bixby’s message was met with an outpouring of support on social media, from both teammates and opponents.

NWSL history on the line for Chicago and Washington

In Saturday’s NWSL final, both the Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars will be aiming to win their team’s first ever league title.

Washington previously made the championship final in 2016, losing to the now-defunct Western New York Flash 3-2 in penalty kicks. The Chicago Red Stars made its only other NWSL championship appearance in 2019, losing to the North Carolina Courage 4-0.

The Red Stars also have a chance to make Chicago this year’s winningest city for women’s sports. In October, the Chicago Sky won the city’s first ever WNBA title.

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The 2021 NWSL Playoffs also mark the first time that neither the No. 1 or 2 seed reached the NWSL final.

NWSL Champions by Year

  • 2013: Portland Thorns FC (defeated Western New York Flash 2-0)
  • 2014: FC Kansas City (defeated Seattle Reign FC 2-1)
  • 2015: FC Kansas City (defeated Seattle Reign FC 1-0)
  • 2016: Western New York Flash (defeated Washington Spirit 3-2 on penalty kicks)
  • 2017: Portland Thorns FC (defeated North Carolina Courage 1-0)
  • 2018: North Carolina Courage (defeated Portland Thorns 3-0)
  • 2019: North Carolina Courage (defeated Chicago Red Stars 4-0)
  • 2020: While the NWSL held two tournaments – a summer Challenge Cup and a Fall Series – there was no season championship due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC