The Washington Spirit advanced to their first-ever NWSL Championship with a thrilling 2-1 win extra time win over the visiting Chicago Red Stars. Ali Krieger scored a header towards the end of the first half to seal 45 minutes of Spirit dominance, but the Spirit lost momentum in the second half and Christen Press scored the equalizer in the 81st minute. In the 111st minute, Francisca Ordega scored the game-winning goal, inciting a deafening celebration among the over 4200 fans at the Maryland Soccerplex.
1. How the midfield is doing = how the Spirit are doing
In the first half, the Spirit moved the ball well, pressured Chicago and denied the Red Stars a chance to attack. In particular, Tori Huster and Joanna Lohman succeeded at silencing Vanessa DiBernardo and Danielle Colaprico, two key players to Chicago's attack. Yet in the second half, Washington started to concede more turnovers in the midfield and lose the ball in a central position. This often opened up the space for Press to make her runs forward.
2. Defense is still an issue
Press' runs forward were even more threatening since the Spirit continued to have trouble defensively. It's been a big issue for the Spirit since the Olympic break and tonight the central defense was particularly weak. Press caused Spirit defender Whitney Church issues throughout the night thanks in part due to a marked advantage in terms of pace.
It was the Spirit's fifth center back combination in the seven games since the Olympics, and Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra spoke about his decision after the game."We have four really good center backs and I have confidence in all four of them," he said. "Looking at last game, [Church] was the one who, if I looked strictly on performance, deserved to be back in the starting lineup. With Shelina [Zadorsky], we intended to bring her back because she’s left-footed and good deeper in the back, that’s where they did most of there damage against us last week. I flip-flopped about three times this week on who to pair her with. Started with [Megan Oyster], then it was Estelle [Johnson] , and I ended up settling with [Church]."
3. Ordega's perseverance pays off
Ordega scored in the 111st minute but her tireless work ethic helped the Spirit throughout the night. For a player who earlier this season was mostly restricted substitute appearances (in part due to fitness issues), her dogged performance for nearly the whole game was even more impressive. Ordega made threatening runs forward from the start and helped defensively as well. Her game-winning goal and her third goal this season was the product of a fantastic build-up from Katie Stengel, Christine Nairn, and Diana Matheson that culminated with a back post run from Ordega. 'I actually wasn't expecting the ball at that spot, but it turned out to be a success," the Nigerian forward said after the game, calling her goal " a dream come true."