The Washington Spirit defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in extra time tonight at the Maryland Soccerplex, with Washington moving on to their first ever appearance in the NWSL’s championship game. USWNT stars Ali Krieger opened the scoring for Washington in the first half, but Christen Press responded with an 81st minute goal. Chicago nearly won the game through Press in second half stoppage time, before Francisca Ordega claimed the game-winner in the 111th minute.
After a fairly nervy opening for both sides, the Spirit started to ramp up the pressure, a strech culminated by Crystal Dunn smashing a shot off the foot of the post in the 20th minute. Dunn was popping up everywhere, and often had success running at Chicago's Casey Short despite obstensibly playing on the opposite wing.
Washington was not to be denied an opening goal, but it came from an unlikely source. A corner kick from Ali Krieger was cleared by Chicago, with center back Shelina Zadorsky collecting the ball along the touchline. Given time and space, Zadorsky served in an absolutely perfect left-footed cross to the back post, where Krieger was sprinting in to calmly nod past USWNT teammate Alyssa Naeher to give the Spirit a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute.
Chicago spent the rest of the first half looking out of sorts, though they did offer up one meaningful attack around the 40th minute. An almighty scramble broke out inside the Spirit's 18 yard box, but ultimately Zadorsky, Whitney Church, and a crowd of others prevented a shot, and Kelsey Wys was able to claim the ball.
The Spirit probably should have had a penalty kick just before halftime, as Dunn got around Short again to cross. Sofia Huerta made the initial interception, but her first touch bounced up and clearly hit her in the hand. Unfortunately for the Spirit, there was no call, and Chicago escaped to the locker rooms down just a goal.
Things changed after halftime, as Chicago changed their approach and began to find openings in the Spirit back four. Zadorsky made a goal-saving challenge in the 54th minute, and later some long balls behind the Washington defense put Christen Press into very dangerous positions, only for the US striker to scuff her shot.
Press wouldn’t keep missing, though, with an 81st minute volley at the back post from a cross by Casey Short. The Spirit were hanging on for dear life as Press repeatedly slashed in behind Church while Washington was unable to pressure the ball. In second half stoppage time, Chicago really should have won the match, but Press - after rounding Wys and facing an empty net - fired a shot against the crossbar.
In extra time, the Spirit adjusted by pushing the game into Chicago’s half, and eventually the shift turned into a 111th minute goal. The move started with Crystal Dunn, but it was a splendid give-and-go between Christine Nairn and Diana Matheson - surprisingly only in the game as a sub - that unlocked the Red Stars defense. Nairn picked out Ordega crashing the back post for an easy tap-in, setting off wild celebrations at the Soccerplex.
Chicago appeared to wilt after the goal, with Washington possessing the ball for most of the final 10 minutes. Chicago midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo was forced off with an injury in the final moments of the game, and the Spirit held on to claim their spot in the 2016 NWSL championship game.
Check back here later tonight for a more in-depth recap.