Washington Spirit win NWSL Championship on Kelley O’Hara header


The Washington Spirit clinched the club’s first-ever NWSL Championship behind goals from Kelley O’Hara and Andi Sullivan, downing the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 on Saturday.

A late surge from the Spirit locked up the title, with the team mounting a thrilling come-from-behind overtime victory to end the season.

The Chicago Red Stars started on the front foot, despite weathering two early injury blows. Both Vanessa DiBernardo and Mallory Pugh, who was only cleared to play in the game yesterday due to COVID protocols, went down in the opening half of the final, forcing Chicago to make two substitutions.

The Red Stars were already missing Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher and Kealia Watt to injury, as well as Casey Krueger to a non-COVID related illness.

Despite the missing talent, the Red Stars persevered, scoring immediately after Pugh left the pitch as Rachel Hill headed in a well-placed cross from Arin Wright to go up 1-0 just before the break.

In a switch of momentum, the second half was all Washington, with Trinity Rodman spearheading the Spirit’s attack. Playing her way back into the game, Rodman fired a rifle off the crossbar from distance, putting Chicago’s defense on notice.

After knocking on the door, Washington finally got on the board in the game’s 67th minute, with Andi Sullivan converting a penalty from the line to equalize.

Chicago, only getting one shot off in the second half, managed to keep the scoreline at 1-1, handling a consistent Spirit attack to force overtime.

Washington, keeping up the pressure, notched their go-ahead goal in the game’s 97th minute, with Kelley O’Hara heading in a lofted cross from Rodman to make it 2-1.

The finish marks O’Hara’s first of the season and makes the 33-year-old the oldest playoff goalscorer in NWSL history. The play also made Rodman the youngest NWSL player to record an assist in the playoffs at 19-years-old.

The Red Stars, however, weren’t ready to give up, testing the Spirit’s backline late into the game. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe had to come up clutch down the stretch to keep her side ahead and deliver Washington the victory.

The Spirit’s NWSL Championship comes after a tumultuous season on and off the pitch, which included previous coach Richie Burke being fired for verbally abusing players, co-owners Steve Baldwin and Michele Kang fighting for control of the team, and two games being forfeited due to an intra-team COVID outbreak.

In the end, the players found a way to forge ahead and win the club’s first-ever title.