The 2021 NWSL season has officially come to a close, with the Washington Spirit crowned as league champions.
In an unprecedented year, NWSL players overcame extraordinary circumstances off the field to continue delivering incredible moments on it, from stunning debut goals to record-breaking accomplishments.
In honor of the thrilling season that was, and in homage to the NWSL’s Best XI, we are counting down the 11 most priceless moments from the season, presented by MasterCard. Let’s get to it.
Trinity Rodman announced herself to the league on April 10 when she scored her first NWSL goal in a Challenge Cup match against the North Carolina Courage, beating her defender and drilling a long ball past the keeper. The finish foreshadowed the Spirit attacker’s seven goals during the regular season and playoffs, as Rodman stretched opponents’ backlines all season long.
In a momentous rookie season, Rodman led her team to an NWSL Championship, won Rookie of the Year and was named to the Best IX First Team. Not bad for someone who is still just 19 years old.
First touch 🥵 https://t.co/3IHNV73z0D— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) April 10, 2021
First touch 🥵 https://t.co/3IHNV73z0D
Ashlyn Harris went on a tear over the summer, stopping a staggering five straight penalty kicks for the Orlando Pride. Harris also surpassed the NWSL all-time save record this year, notching her 469th save in Orlando’s 1-0 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC in August.
FIVE. STRAIGHT. PK. SAVES. 🤯#ORLvRGN | https://t.co/iecT7II54a | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/aBEyhMjrqj— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) July 25, 2021
FIVE. STRAIGHT. PK. SAVES. 🤯#ORLvRGN | https://t.co/iecT7II54a | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/aBEyhMjrqj
Ebony Salmon broke onto the NWSL scene in historic fashion, scoring mere seconds after entering her first Racing Louisville game. The English attacker’s highlight-reel goal earned her the top play on that evening’s “SportsCenter Top 10.”
Salmon went on to notch six goals and three assists in 20 matches and 14 starts with the team, finishing the season as Racing Louisville’s leading scorer.
Knows how to make an entrance 😌@ebony_salmon taking the top play on the @SportsCenter Top 10 ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/4gNNmE6qyo— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) June 21, 2021
Knows how to make an entrance 😌@ebony_salmon taking the top play on the @SportsCenter Top 10 ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/4gNNmE6qyo
Racing Louisville put an exclamation mark on their debut season, winning the inaugural Women’s Cup title in front of a home crowd at Lynn Family Stadium in August. The championship match was epic, with Louisville outlasting FC Bayern Munich in sudden-death penalty kicks to take home the Cup.
The win raised Louisville’s profile on the international women’s soccer scene in its first year as a club.
ABSOLUTE SCENES 😱Congratulations to @RacingLouFC on winning the inaugural @thewomenscup final over @FCBfrauen 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/KHVGjn5k5j— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 22, 2021
ABSOLUTE SCENES 😱Congratulations to @RacingLouFC on winning the inaugural @thewomenscup final over @FCBfrauen 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/KHVGjn5k5j
Kansas City captured their first win in August after a slow start to their inaugural season. Defeating OL Reign 2-1 at home, the expansion club notched the most significant of its three wins against the eventual No. 2 playoff seed. Kansas City ended its first season with a new name, the Kansas City Current, debuting the crest during the club’s final game of the year.
Pick that one out, @hellopickett‼️#KCvRGN | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/QsLO7K1Zql— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 15, 2021
Pick that one out, @hellopickett‼️#KCvRGN | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/QsLO7K1Zql
Angel City FC made headlines before even taking the pitch when the expansion club announced the acquisition of superstar Christen Press in August. The U.S. women’s national team forward had long hoped to play professional soccer in her hometown of Los Angeles and finally got the opportunity when she inked a two-year contract with ACFC.
Press told the Los Angeles Times after her signing: “For it to really be happening, to be able to bring professional soccer back to Los Angeles and to be a part of that team, is nothing but a dream come true.”
It’s really, really, really happening 🥺We’re beyond excited to have you back home, @ChristenPress! pic.twitter.com/2wrAfdlSQl— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) August 23, 2021
It’s really, really, really happening 🥺We’re beyond excited to have you back home, @ChristenPress! pic.twitter.com/2wrAfdlSQl
After leading Lyon to three-straight Division 1 Féminine titles from 2017-20, Eugénie Le Sommer brought her world-class attacking talents to OL Reign. The French star scored her first NWSL goal in July, putting her defender on skates before delivering a skillful, must-see finish.
In her 17 regular-season appearances with OL Reign, Le Sommer notched seven goals and three assists, guiding the club to a semifinal berth.
It's goal No. 1 in a Reign uniform for Eugenie Le Sommer! The home team takes the lead! #RGNvLOU | https://t.co/iecT7II54a | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/goMjG1rnU1— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 1, 2021
It's goal No. 1 in a Reign uniform for Eugenie Le Sommer! The home team takes the lead! #RGNvLOU | https://t.co/iecT7II54a | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/goMjG1rnU1
The NWSL underwent a reckoning midway through the 2021 season after Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly went public with their accusations of sexual coercion and abuse against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley. The report in The Athletic spurred turnover at the top of the NWSL, with commissioner Lisa Baird resigning the day after the allegations were revealed.
Games were postponed the following weekend, and players demanded the NWSL institute sweeping changes with regards to player safety and transparency. When clubs returned to the pitch the following Wednesday, players across the league made a collective statement, pausing at the six-minute mark to stand at the center of the field in solidarity with Shim and Farrelly, who had been pressured into staying silent for six years.
The move reverberated around the women’s soccer world, with teams in foreign leagues showing their support. The NWSL’s stand instigated an overdue — and ongoing — conversation around power and silence in women’s soccer.
pic.twitter.com/mlzE5Q8q8F— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 6, 2021
Carli Lloyd received a send-off befitting her historic and unprecedented career, after the soccer legend announced her retirement at the age of 39. Gotham FC honored Lloyd’s contribution to the sport and the league by hosting a farewell game in Philadelphia, near her hometown of Delran, N.J., in October.
Playing in front of fans at Subaru Park, Lloyd expressed her gratitude after the match, calling it “the most special evening of my career.”
Thank you all for the most special evening of my career. A memory I will never forget. I will miss all of this. I will miss all of you! ❤️ https://t.co/f0Bx7LsYtB— Carli Lloyd (@CarliLloyd) October 7, 2021
Thank you all for the most special evening of my career. A memory I will never forget. I will miss all of this. I will miss all of you! ❤️ https://t.co/f0Bx7LsYtB
Ashley Sanchez scored one of the most consequential goals of her career when she delivered the go-ahead finish to send the Washington Spirit past OL Reign and to the NWSL Championship.
The 22-year-old did it in style, too, chipping Sarah Bouhaddi, one of the most league’s most seasoned goalkeepers, to clinch the 2-1 semifinal victory. The poise Sanchez showed to find the back of the net from a ridiculous angle — and when the stakes were highest — made it one of the best goals of the season.
The @WashSpirit are headed to the NWSL Championship 🏆The goal that sealed their comeback win vs. OL Reign 💥 (via @NWSL)pic.twitter.com/Nx8UiOJwTz— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 14, 2021
The @WashSpirit are headed to the NWSL Championship 🏆The goal that sealed their comeback win vs. OL Reign 💥 (via @NWSL)pic.twitter.com/Nx8UiOJwTz
The Washington Spirit took home the club’s first-ever NWSL championship after beating the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in an extra-time thriller. Heading home the final goal was Kelley O’Hara, the seasoned USWNT veteran who has long called Washington D.C. her adopted “home.”
In her first season with the club, O’Hara provided the NWSL’s youngest team invaluable leadership and motivation. So, it was only fitting that she scored the deciding goal, her first of the season.
Kelley O’Hara in extra-time to give @WashSpirit the lead in the NWSL final 🔥(via @NWSL)pic.twitter.com/2JlQ3RiO2q— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 20, 2021
Kelley O’Hara in extra-time to give @WashSpirit the lead in the NWSL final 🔥(via @NWSL)pic.twitter.com/2JlQ3RiO2q
Overcoming Richie Burke’s firing, ownership infighting and a breach in COVID-19 protocols which resulted in two forfeits, the Spirit miraculously finished the season on a nine-game undefeated streak. With NWSL Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch, Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman and Goalkeeper of the Year Aubrey Bledsoe, the Spirit had championship-level talent, and O’Hara’s header capped one of the most exciting and dominant runs in NWSL history.