PREVIEW – Six months of entertaining soccer come to an end this Saturday, when the Chicago Red Stars take on the Washington Spirit in the 2021 NWSL Championship. Here’s everything you need to know about the scintillating season finale.
Previewing the NWSL Championship
NWSL Championship 2021
(4) Chicago Red Stars vs. (3) Washington Spirit
Saturday, November 20th – 12pm ET
Lynn Family Stadium – Louisville, Kentucky
From a seeding perspective, a Red Stars-Spirit final is rather surprising. But looking at the form these two teams have been in recently, it’s completely expected.
Chicago went 8-5-8 in their first 21 regular-season games, but they finished with three straight wins and proceeded to dispatch No. 5 Gotham FC 1-0 and top seed Portland Thorns 2-0 in the playoffs. Over the duration of this five-match win streak, the Red Stars have conceded just one goal.
Washington also ended the regular season with a bang. After a 7-6-7 start, the Spirit won four games in a row to close things out. They started the playoffs with a nervy extra-time victory over No. 6 North Carolina Courage in the quarterfinals, and proceeded to outplay No. 2 OL Reign, pulling off a comeback 2-1 victory to punch their ticket to the final.
Keys to the Match
This clash will certainly not be marred by defensive errors. It’s a matter of which team can convert its limited chances and break through the other’s defense.
Neither of these two teams concede often. In Sarah Gorden, the Red Stars have a defensive rock. The Defender of the Year nominee was, along with goal scorers Sarah Woldmoe, Mallory Pugh, and Katie Johnson, the standout performer in her team’s defeats over Gotham and the Thorns. She made several crucial clearances to keep Chicago’s goal empty in both matches.
Likewise, Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe has shined in the playoffs. She’s faced 17 shots on target total against the Courage and Reign, saving 16. Thus, we can expect both defenses to do their jobs and keep their lines clear for most of the match. It should come as no surprise to anyone if the game remains goalless through 90 minutes and heads to extra time.
This is the type of matchup to be decided by a single moment of individual brilliance. And no one does individual brilliance better than Mallory Pugh. The pacy winger broke the deadlock in the quarterfinals with a crafty finish before missing the semis due to COVID-19 protocol. Now, hungry for goals, Pugh is expected to return to the lineup for the championship match. Count on her to make a difference.
Chicago Red Stars 1-0 Washington Spirit (AET)