In the NWSL season to forget, one last day to applaud

To call the Washington Spirit season turbulent would be an understatement. The football team coach was sacked after being accused of ve...


To call the Washington Spirit season turbulent would be an understatement.

The football team coach was sacked after being accused of verbally abusing his players. A handful of employees, mostly women, resigned amid reports of a toxic work culture. Two of the team’s owners got into a public argument, leading one to commit to selling his stake – but only after the players released a statement urging him to sell. Oh, and two games have been lost due to a coronavirus outbreak among players.

By comparison, playing a playoff semifinals last weekend on a baseball field converted to water was just another day’s work.

“We’re good,” defenseman Emily Sonnett said after Spirit beat famed OL Reign 2-1 on Sunday. “Star power and international talent aside, I don’t think Spirit gets enough credit.”

The Spirit will get that credit, and a satisfying conclusion to a nightmarish National Women’s Football League season, if they can defeat the Chicago Red Stars in Saturday’s championship game in Louisville, Ky.

Eventually, Spirit and the rest of the NWSL will look to a future that remains murky as it grapples with several serious issues.

The league’s first eight seasons were dominated by whether it could survive where previous attempts at women’s professional football had failed. The ninth tested whether the league could survive an abuse scandal.

Four NWSL head coaches have been fired or quietly left over the past year after various accusations of abusive behavior. One of them, Paul Riley, was accused by a player of force her to have sex. Eight of the league’s 10 teams have changed coaches since the start of the season, and fury over mismanagement of abuse reports has led to the ousting the league commissioner and leading lawyer, the postponement of a weekend of games and weeks of demonstrations on the field and introspection off the field.

As it crowns its champion this weekend, the NWSL is headed by an interim commissioner, and it remains the subject of a number of overlapping inquiries into the conduct of the league office and of ‘a number of its teams. There is no timeline for the investigations to be concluded, nor even an indication of what they will find and any changes that may result.

Still, a series of overtly positive developments have given the NWSL and its players hope that better days are ahead.

Two new teams, Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC, will join next season, expanding the league to 12 teams and in football-crazy Southern California. Los Angeles-based Angel City is backed by big-power investors like Natalie Portman and Mia Hamm, while billionaire investor Ron Burkle owns San Diego, which hired former United States coach Jill Ellis as his first. President. Both teams have already hired accomplished coaches.

Not to be outdone, the owners of the league team in Kansas City have announced plans for a new $ 70 million stadium on the city’s waterfront. When completed, it will be the country’s first football stadium built primarily for a professional women’s team. And soon, the league and its players should approve their first collective agreement, an important step in the formalization of the playing and working conditions of the players.

For the next few days, however, the league hopes that the focus will be on the present.

The Red Stars’ path to the Championship game was not as hectic as the Spirit’s; they are one of the two teams to have the same coach all season. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“This year was absolutely crazy off the pitch with everything going on,” defender Sarah Gorden said. said to the equalizer Thursday. She said the past two years, including the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed, had been a testament to “how strong the women in this league are, how black women in this league are. league are strong “.

To make it to the semi-finals, the Red Stars knocked out the favorite Portland Thorns on the road in front of nearly 16,000 fans. They did so as they missed national team mainstays Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher, who have struggled with injuries all season. They also didn’t have forward Mallory Pugh, who missed the game due to the league’s coronavirus protocols. Pugh could also miss the final; his status remained uncertain on Friday.

For casual fans getting ready for the final, therefore, the game is likely to be decided by players they may not have heard of, reflecting the changing of the guard who is in progress with the national team, where Carli Lloyd retired and a number of the team’s players, including Megan Rapinoe, are nearing the end of their careers. Instead, on Saturday, they will see Ashley Hatch and Trinity Rodman of Washington, the league’s rookie of the year, and Gorden of Chicago, who have all been named among the league’s top 11 this season.

What they can offer the league and its fans, for at least a day, is respite from one season filled with disappointing revelations after another. Andi Sullivan, a Washington midfielder, spoke on Friday of “soaking up” the chaos of the season, and his coach, Kris Ward, said the team had dealt with the chaos in part by considering training and the playground like sanctuaries far from everything. other.

But as the confetti is cleared from Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville following Saturday afternoon’s final, players will be sidelined for months and the NWSL will enter the biggest offseason in its history.

There will be an expansion plan to lead, a team to sell, coaches to hire, and allegations to investigate.

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Newsrust - US Top News: In the NWSL season to forget, one last day to applaud
In the NWSL season to forget, one last day to applaud
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