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Spirit wins NWSL title 2-1 in extra time over Red Stars
SOCCER

Spirit wins NWSL title 2-1 in extra time over Red Stars

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NWSL Championship Soccer

Washington Spirit’s Andi Sullivan, center, lifts the trophy as they celebrate after defeating the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL Championship on Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kelley O’Hara scored in the 97th minute and the Washington Spirit won the National Women’s Soccer League championship with a 2-1 extra time victory over the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday.

The championship game closes a tumultuous ninth season for the league. The Spirit had to forfeit a pair of games this season because of coronavirus issues. The team played under interim coach Kris Ward after Richie Burke was fired in September for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy.

It was the first league championship for the Spirit, who advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over second-seeded OL Reign.

O’Hara, a defender who was on the U.S. national team that won the World Cup in 2015 and 2019, scored her first goal of the season. Her game-winning, back-post header came off a pass from Trinity Rodman, the NWSL Rookie of the Year.

O’Hara called it “the best feeling ever” to be ending the season as champions.

“I can’t describe it, because of everything we’ve been though, and the fact that we’re ending it as NWSL champions is pretty crazy and very special,” O’Hara said. “I’m really proud of this team. People have no idea what we’ve all gone through, and the resiliency and the perseverance of every single player on this team is pretty incredible.”

Mallory Pugh, who didn’t play in the semifinals because of COVID-19 protocol, started for the Red Stars but left the game in first-half stoppage time with an apparent injury. Shortly after her departure, Rachel Hill scored off a cross from Arin Wright to give the Red Stars a 1-0 lead. Chicago downed the top-seeded Portland Thorns 2-0 in the semifinal.

Earlier in the game, Chicago’s Vanessa DiBernardo was subbed off with an injury.

Despite their struggles, the Spirit’s roster included Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch and Goalkeeper of the Year Aubrey Bledsoe, as well as Rodman, the daughter of former NBA player Dennis Rodman.

“We’ve overcome so much, but we did it together,” Bledsoe said. “We never quit, we never gave up on each other, and that second half, that shows exactly who we are.”

Rodman nearly tied the game in the 61st minute with a blast from distance that hit the post. But the Spirit pulled even a short time later when captain Andi Sullivan made a penalty kick that beat Chicago goalkeeper Cassie Miller.

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