A title match often represents a finish line, the closing of a chapter, and the crowning of a chosen few. Saturday’s NWSL final between the Red Stars and Spirit will certainly feature those aspects, but there’s a bit more that comes with the territory to cap off a brutal season that was often derailed by what happened outside of the player’s control.
Instead, it has turned into a year of player empowerment and a year in which the soul of the league was finally heard, even though the events that did it were egregious. The result was the removal of several coaches, whose misdeeds and abuses were overlooked or ignored for too long. The result was the resignation of a commissioner whose positive contributions to the bottom line were neglected by neglecting player safety, the matter that should have come before everything else. The result was a brief hiatus in the regular season, with things spiraling to the point where a total reset was required.
In all, some form of scandal, controversy or reckoning has engulfed the vast majority of the league’s 10 clubs. One of them, Spirit, will play for the title at Racing Louisville’s Lynn Family Stadium. Louisville also faced trauma this season, with its manager being fired “for a cause,” with few details emerging beyond that. The game is taking place at their stadium only due to player reaction to the initial plan, an early morning start in Portland, Oregon (due to the available TV window, noon ET on CBS), which was to be played on the Field of Thorny Grass. If Spirit wins, that means accepting the fact that the owner they’ve publicly tried to remove, who is in the process of selling the team, will lift the trophy, or at least turn it into a championship. -winning owner. It has become tremendously difficult to separate all the elements at stake and truly celebrate the sport.
The hope for the league is that in 2022 and beyond that will no longer be such a difficult and complicated task.
The West Coast additions of Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC should bring elements of brilliance and class to NWSL. Angel City, backed by its group of star-studded owners, has already secured the signing of US women’s national team star Christen Press (while drawing ire from the league for manipulating the American veteran and Gotham FC midfielder Allie Long). San Diego has hired the highly respected Casey Stoney as its manager, is mentored at the front office by Jill Ellis, and is starting his project from scratch. There’s still glimmer on the horizon, as in 2024, the newly named Current will open a new $ 70 million waterfront stadium in Kansas City to call its own.
Marla Messing, the league’s acting chief executive officer, said on Friday, without disclosing numbers, that the league extended its partnership with Nike in what is the “most substantial deal in NWSL history.” His agreement with CBS has also been extended for a year, as the pandemic derailed the first season of the rights agreement.
And then there is the final on Saturday itself. The spirit and what they’ve had to overcome: the player’s conflict with property, the toxic culture that he was able to permeate without consequence for so long, former manager Richie Burke’s history of abuse, the club’s suspension from the league’s government. Due to the depth of the problems, the losses due to COVID-19 make up a tremendous story of resilience. They feature some of the sport’s brightest talents, from current Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman to Goalkeeper of the Year Aubrey Bledsoe, to midfield star Andi Sullivan and Ashleys Hatch and Sánchez, with the last three heading to the national team’s camp. US women’s national For two friendlies. in Australia after the season is over.
There’s Rory Dames’ Red Stars, who have overcome the injuries of stalwarts like Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher in their quest for a title that has proven elusive throughout the club’s existence. The Red Stars helped fuel Mal Pugh’s resurgence, and have been carried away by the determined play of Sarahs Woldmoe and Gorden and the dominance of the midfield by Morgan Gautrat. (Casey Krueger and Kealia Watt will miss the final, however
There’s still a lot to celebrate at NWSL, and the finale in front of a boisterous crowd on national television will show some of those valuable items on display. The mission going forward is to ensure that there is no need to separate athletic achievement from the toxicity that so overwhelmingly overshadowed and preceded it.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.