It’s a wrap: The NWSL’s tumultuous ninth season comes to a close

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, November 22, 2021

(Editor’s note: apologies about the delayed Gymnastics Saturday. It was a technical error on my part.)

Wait, it’s over?

The NWSL season concluded on Saturday, with the Washington Spirit claiming the title with a 2-1 extra time victory. It is the Spirit’s first league championship.

I have so many thoughts, and most of them are questions. Because I’m still pretty astounded.

How did Chicago even get to the game with all the injuries they’ve had? How did they push it to extra time?

And how did the Spririt even get to the game with the turbulence they faced this season? Like the COVID forfeits and Richie Burke’s firing?

I mean, even game-winning scorer Kelley O’Hara was asking the same. Yes, Kelley O’Hara. A defender.

“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. 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.”

This season was long and eventful, and not in a good way. I can’t believe the Olympics were in there somewhere. I’m still processing a lot of what happened overall, but I think it comes down to one word: Necessary.

Everything that happened, all the firings, from Reign coach Farid Benstiti, to Gotham GM Alyse LaHue, to Spirit coach Richie Burke and finally to Courage coach Paul Riley, all of that was necessary for the league to move in the right direction. The bad apples needed to be weeded out and the league higher-ups needed to be put on notice that they MUST listen to the players, believe in the players.

Yes, it’s important for the league to expand, for revenues to grow and for the business model to evolve. But not at the expense of the players.

Here’s a good thing: Saturday night’s SportsCenter covered the championship — despite all the rest of the stuff going on in college football. I don’t remember that happening before. So there’s that.

Now it’s on to the draft, and on to next season.

For me, it’s on to my big move back home to our condo! I’ve been essentially living out of a suitcase for the past two-plus months while we got the whole thing re-done. (Pro-tip, don’t try this is a pandemic with supply-chain issues). Anyway, that’s why this post is a bit brief. Lots is happening.

And hey, and the NWSL awards were announced. They were as follows:

Jess Fishlock, Reign, MVP

Laura Harvey, Reign Coach of the Year

Trinity Rodman, Spirit, Rookie of the Year

Audrey Bledsoe, Spirit, Goalkeeper of the Year

Caprice Dydasco, Gotham, Defender of the Year

Yay! I got some right this year!


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LINKS

Since this is an important human rights topic to our readers here at The IX: The IOC has set guidelines for transgender participation. You can read about the framework here.

Nice story here from AP’s Rob Harris on Jill Ellis navigating the politics of a biennial World Cup.

Jenna Hellstrom tells TSN about her experiences with Richie Burke while with the Washington Spirit.

The local paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, with its story on the title game.

Pop Sugar assembled a timeline of the NWSL abuse allegations. Pop Sugar also did a story on the BWPC that’s worth your time.

Steph Yang’s excellent story from The Athletic on Ally and sticking with the NWSL.

Angel City FC shows off its jersey. And it’s cool.

Black Future Co-Op wins Nationwide Community Impact award.

The New York Times wrapped up the season.

ESPN’s Caitlin Murray took a look at the tumultuous season in advance of the championship.

Kim Kardashian has entered the chat. While I’m not a big fan, good for her.

Interesting story about how the goalkeeper from Iran is threatening to sue Jordan’s federation for questioning her gender.

The Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf wrote about Trinity Rodman in the wake of the title game.

Pablo Maurer also wrote a nice story on Trinity for The Athletic.


Five at The IX: Postgame with Kelley O’Hara and Trinity Rodman

Question: Describe how you’re feeling?


O’Hara: I can’t describe it because of everything we’ve been through and the fact that we’re ending it as NWSL champions is pretty crazy and very special. 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. It’s something that I haven’t seen on any NWSL team I’ve ever been on. So it’s just it’s like the best feeling ever to be ending on a win and, and being champions.

Question: Your teammates have been complimentary about your role in getting them through everything …

O’Hara: It’s very nice for them to say that. I don’t think it was just me. I think it was the whole group. I think it was our ability to persevere, to be like: That’s what’s happened.’ We can’t change the what the league chose to do, how was handled — which a lot of it seems suspect in some areas. But there’s nothing we could do. We couldn’t control that, and that was done. So the only thing that we had control over was how we responded and what we did with the the last games that we had of the season. We haven’t lost. Like we besides the forfeits, we haven’t lost since August, which is pretty incredible. And we kind of just went into playoff mode after we were given those forfeits because we had to, we had no other choice. We wanted to make the playoffs. We wanted to be NWSL champions…. And we all knew wasn’t easy, but we kind of looked at each other and said, Listen, every single game from here on out is a playoff game.’ So we’ve been in playoff mode since end of September, I think, and we controlled what we could control and that was winning. And here we are.


Question for Rodman: What changed in the second half? And what did you think about your first season?

Rodman: I think the first half started off a little rocky um, we were kind of all over the place, didn’t really find the spaces that we wanted to initially find. I think we found ourselves isolated in a lot of spots but right before the PK goal — I don’t know, we were moving the ball really quickly finding those spaces, pulling the defenders out. I think when me, Tara, Hatch, whenever we got the ball there was three people on us. And I think getting those people to come out and opening the space central was big. Obviously Tara got the ball the middle, got the foul, we got that goal.
Yeah, the journey’s been long. Not what I expected from my first season, but the team I was with, they’ve been amazing. I’ve looked up to every single person even who rookies I’ve gotten closer with every single person on my team and I honestly wouldn’t be in the mindset that I’m in right now if they weren’t behind me. We’ve just like extremely driven, haven’t given up and we want to win and I think we wanted to win more than any other team in this league. So I think that’s how we got there.

Question: When did you recognize the opportunity to get to Kelley?


Rodman: Honestly, I dribbled, like I’d taken players on a lot. I was doing a lot of 1-v-1s and sometimes it wasn’t working too well, just because they had covered behind. So I think once I beat that first player, I was kind of stuck. So I think once I cut it inside, I knew that wasn’t going to be able to dribble inside, to get that opportunity and I saw the runners in the near posts were marked, and I saw Kelly popping off the back so, she got her head on it, so that recognition was amazing and her getting there was insane.

Question: From the Master Card junior reporter: What would you tell young players watching the game?

O’Hara: (To Rodman) You’re young.

Rodman: I think it can be extremely emotional. I think that is the biggest thing, with my immaturity, you can tell very easily on the field, is my emotions. I think able to brush off mistakes that happen and move forward, because I think that was the biggest thing. I was extremely frustrated in the first half with myself and just our movement of the ball. I think once you can get out of your head and just keep focusing on the next pass, the next shot, the next goal, that’s gonna get you to that.

O’Hara: I would say to follow up on that, it’s a 90 minute game right? And here it was 120 minutes. So, like Trinity said, focusing on, whether you mess up or not, focusing on what you can do next. That’s all, like I said earlier, what you can control. I had some missteps in the first half and I was able to just put them out of my head and move forward. And I think every player, if they have the ability, that’s kind of just overcoming adversity and just not focusing on the what happened or the failure but focusing on the next thing:

Question: Can you talk about Trinity’s mentality and what you’ve seen in her?

O’Hara: It’s interesting. I still remember the first practice that I had with her back in preseason, and I just remember being like ‘This girl is going to be really good.’ Like I just I just got that feeling from her and the more that I got to play with her, and to see her maturity. But she is so mature for her age and the player that she is. Like, you really are, it’s impressed me all season. And she does have that that killer instinct, that never say die attitude and the fact that I know she’s in front of me and I get to play with her gives me a lot of confidence on the field. So yeah, she’s obviously done amazing this season and it being her rookie season, I couldn’t be more proud of her. And I know that she has a lot ahead of her and I’m excited to watch her shine.

Question: What happened in the second half and extra time that you were able to come back.

O’Hara: I think we just finally got back to doing what we are good at, which is just playing. Like moving them, breaking them down, finding the spaces, using our weapons and just playing. I think that we settled into the game and the second half and we dominated that second half, I think. I think that was kind of what it was.
Rodman: So I think movement. I think that was the biggest thing. Because honestly, like in the first half we were pretty static. There was not a lot of movement on top initially, and that’s why we couldn’t swing the ball, because there was no movement but I think definitely in the second half, the movement with everyone, moving off the ball, moving the defenders, having them make a decision: Do I stay? Do I go? I think that was the biggest thing.

Question: What was the atmosphere like being here?

O’Hara: It was great. I thought the crowd brought it, there were some people heckling me. You probably, too (to Rodman. But yeah, they brought it and we had a lot of spirit fans in the crowd, which was amazing and feels so good when you’re playing to know that they’re there. But I think I think Louisville put on a great environment for us to be able to play the championship game. The grass is a little long, that’s the only thing I’ll say that’s my only complaint.

Question: As a young team, do you feel this is the start of a dynasty?

O’Hara: You can’t say dynasty with one win, at all. It does it all start somewhere. DC is the district of champions baby, apparently. I found that out last night and I was pretty jacked up about it. Like you said, we do have a very young team, which is awesome. They’re really good and really excited and put on amazing performances. So I think it’s just the beginning for this this club and I think that there’s a very bright future here.


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Annie Peterson