Courtesy of the Washington Spirit via Twitter
Courtesy of the Washington Spirit via Twitter

Not even Hollywood could script a story like that of the 2021 Washington Spirit.

The newly minted National Women’s Soccer League champions went through a season with more bumps than a pothole-filled D.C. street. The Spirit beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in extra time on Nov. 20 to win their first title, but the intrigue of their season started long before that.

Washington coach Richie Burke was accused by several players of emotional, verbal and racist abuse. He was suspended and ultimately fired in September by the team, which said Burke had been “terminated for cause.” The allegations spurred the NWSL to conduct an investigation of the team’s entire business operation, finding that the team and its ownership “failed to act in the best interests of the league.”

The ladies of the Spirit’s roster came together to write a statement addressing the team’s managing partner Steve Baldwin.

“When we asked you to step aside, step back from management, we clearly meant you should not retain any management control,” the statement read. “The person we trust is Michele [Kang, Spirit co-owner and investor]. She continuously puts players’ needs and interests first.”

After the league investigation and the player revolt, Baldwin resigned and announced he will sell his stake in the club.

The troubles of the Spirit did not end there, as there was a coronavirus outbreak in which four players were infected. The league determined that the team breached the league’s health and safety protocols and penalized the Spirit six points in the standings and six goals, the equivalent of losing two matches 3-0. Goals are important when it comes to the playoff seeding and the table. (Soccer uses the term table instead of standings).

Despite the significant hurdles, the Spirit managed to win nine straight games going into the playoffs.

“I honestly can’t describe it, because of everything we’ve been through.” Spirit defender Kelley O’Hara, a two-time FIFA World Cup champion, said after winning the championship. “People have no idea what we have 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 an NWSL team that I’ve ever been on.”

Upon hearing about the Spirit’s title win, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said, “I’m excited about the signal this sends to little girls all over Washington, D.C. I would love to have a parade, so let’s talk about it.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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