For the first time in franchise history, the Washington Spirit will be playing for the NWSL championship.
The Spirit beat the visiting Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in overtime in front of 4,249 at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Friday night. A goal from defender Ali Krieger opened the scoring for the Spirit, and with just under 10 minutes remaining in the overtime period, forward Francisca Ordega sealed the deal for Washington.
“We’ve wanted this for the past four seasons, and I think we deserved it all season,” Krieger said. “We’ve played so great. Obviously it was a team win, towards the end you could see that with the goals we scored, it was involving the entire team.”
Washington controlled the play from the start, but as halftime drew closer, had nothing to show for it. A corner kick from Krieger was played away by Red Stars defender Julie Johnston, but the ball was played right to Spirit defender Shelina Zadorsky. Zadorsky played a ball back into the box with her left foot, finding Krieger’s head at the back post for the goal in the 36th minute.
“I saw time and space and I knew we had a lot of runners in the box,” Zadorsky said. “I had thought maybe swing it in with my right foot, but I’m a little more confident with my left, so I took a touch back and tried to curl it into a dangerous space. Then all the credit to Ali for an incredible goal.”
Chicago would get a goal back in the 80th minute to tie the game up. Defender Casey Short played a ball over the Spirit backline and right onto the foot of on running forward Christen Press. The drama continued in stoppage time as Press beat Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, but hit the crossbar, sending the game into extra time.
“I was just hoping that my teammates, my center backs and everyone else were covering for me as they should,” Wys said. “I did what I could to put her off and then the soccer gods were with us, that was what I was thinking as soon as that hit the post. I was like they are with us tonight.”
Both teams traded chances in the opening half of extra time, but it wouldn’t be until the 111th minute that either team was able to break through. Combination play between midfielders Christine Nairn and Diana Matheson set up the Spirit in the box. Nairn sent the ball across the face of goal to a streaking Ordega at the back post. Ordega was able to just get a piece of it, directing it past Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
“I think I was just right there at the right time because when I saw how good the ball was like, ok let me just go in case the ball bounce back,” Ordega said. “I wasn’t expecting the ball at that spot, but it came out to be a successful goal.”
In its first ever home playoff game, the Spirit qualified to play in its first NWSL Final. After finishing in last place in year one, four years later, the Spirit will play either the Portland Thorns or WNY Flash for the league crown.
“It’s super rewarding because I remember that first season where we didn’t have the best opportunities and maybe we didn’t have the best season at all,” Krieger said. “Working off of that, building a team, building this core group that we’ve had, it’s a really incredible feeling to come that far and to see this team grow into what it is now. I’m just really proud of where we’ve come and now where we are headed. This game’s over now, we have to focus on the final.”
The Spirit will find out on Sunday which team it will face in the Final. The NWSL Championship will be played at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 5 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)