The Washington Spirit are in the 2021 NWSL Championship game, as they take on the Chicago Red Stars today at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville. Sometimes you don’t have to dress things up. The mere fact that these teams — the Spirit coming through a decade’s worth of crises in a little over three months, and Chicago coping without nearly half their starting lineup — have made it to the final is staggering.
It also means NWSL history, as today’s winner will lift their first trophy ever. For the Spirit, a win today would put the ghosts of a heartbreaking 2016 to rest. Chicago, meanwhile, are in a final for the third straight season, but will be looking to redefine themselves after falling short in the 2019 championship and 2020 Challenge Cup.
Location: Lynn Family Stadium (Louisville, KY)
Kickoff time: 12:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Andi Sullivan, Ashley Sanchez, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Tara McKeown, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Devon Kerr, Paige Nielsen, Karina Rodríguez, Camryn Biegalski, Julia Roddar, Saori Takarada, Taylor Aylmer, Anna Heilferty, Kumi Yokoyama
We don’t anticipate any changes to the Spirit’s starting lineup, or indeed to their gameday squad of 20. There are no new knocks on the injury report, media in Louisville didn’t note anything during the open portion of the Spirit’s training session today, and at least when the team stepped off the training pitch on Wednesday, it was all systems go.
The only adjustment projected here is up front, where the nature of Chicago’s low block dictates that playing with McKeown as a central target (allowing Hatch to slash in off the left) is the way to go.
Projected Chicago starting 11: (4231) - Cassie Miller; Tatumn Milazzo, Sarah Gorden, Tierna Davidson, Arin Wright; Sarah Woldmoe, Morgan Gautrat; Rachel Hill, Vanessa DiBernardo, Mal Pugh; Makenzy Doniak
Controversially or not, Pugh and 2021 Spirit tormenter Kayla Sharples have cleared Covid-19 protocols, and are eligible to play. Sharples probably won’t start unless Rory Dames decides to try a back five, but Pugh is Chicago’s undeniable key attacker. If she can go, she’s very likely going to start. That’s all the more important for the Red Stars, as they’re without Kealia Watt, USWNT vets Alyssa Naeher and Julie Ertz, and starting defender Casey Krueger.
That also means a probable return to the 4231 Chicago has trusted for most of the past few years, as opposed to the 3421 used to match Portland’s midfield quartet in the semifinal. The only apparent question beyond Pugh is whether the attack is rounded out by semifinal goalscorer Katie Johnson, or Doniak. Essentially this is an offense vs. defense choice, and given the indicators pointing to the Red Stars trying to grind this game to dust, we’re predicting Doniak starts, and Johnson is Dames’ attacking wild card if they need a goal.
Referee: Tori Penso
Available TV: CBS
Available streaming: Paramount + (USA only, and if you subscribe to Paramount+ via this link, your friends at B&RU get some cash!), Twitch (international)
What do we have to say about it?: Yours truly did a preview podcast about Chicago with my good friends from Southside Trap:
️ NEW EPISODE ️— Plex Weather (@PlexWeather) November 19, 2021
The Spirit are in the #NWSLChampionship! @SouthsideTrapod (aka @SandHerrera_ & @ScoutRipley) joins Jason to preview the game, & there's also a ghost, because of course we're not just gonna do a 100% normal show over herehttps://t.co/pa5KShQ7uP
We’ve also got a scouting report, an astrological look at the Spirit lineup because soccer is fun, and it’s not too late to look at our deep dive on the Spirit’s tactical changes that have seen them concede just one goal in their last 420 minutes of play.
What are you drinking?: A little-known fact about finals is that they’re long days, and since this one comes during lunch time, I’m gonna need some help. So: black coffee, the only drink I truly trust.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.
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