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Spirit advance to Challenge Cup final in controversial finish

(Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)

The reigning NWSL champion Washington Spirit advanced the Challenge Cup final after taking down OL Reign on penalties, 9-8, following a 0-0 deadlock in regulation.

With the win, the Spirit’s unbeaten streak extends to 20 straight competitive matches since last August.

Spirit goalkeeper and reigning NWSL goalkeeper of the year Aubrey Kingsbury came up big for the home team, converting a penalty in the shootout’s third round before making the game-winning save on reigning NWSL MVP Jess Fishlock.

“Every keeper just wants to score,” she said. “We have dreams. Usually we are all failed forwards.”

The game’s finish followed up a dramatic ending to the full 90 minutes. Deep in stoppage time, Washington’s Anna Heilferty made hand contact with the ball on a redirected corner kick from OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe.

The referee blew the whistle to call the play dead, but the whistle signaled the end of regulation, not the penalty the OL Reign players wanted.

After the game, Rapinoe said the referee told the Reign that Heilferty’s arm was against her body, so a handball would not be called.

“The hand was out on f—ing Jupiter,” Rapinoe said, while Reign coach Laura Harvey said the no-call was “embarrassing.”

The Spirit move on to play the North Carolina Courage in Saturday’s Challenge Cup final. The Courage beat the Kansas City Current 2-1 on Wednesday.

“This team wants to win trophies,” Kingsbury said. “We don’t care what trophy it is. If it’s five [versus] five in practice, I want to win. I know everyone else wants to win. Every opportunity we get to compete, we’re there to win.”