The Washington Spirit became the city’s newest championship team on Saturday, securing an overtime victory in the dramatic finale of a season that forced the players to overcome much more than their on-field opponents.
The Spirit’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars represents the team’s first National Women’s Soccer League title. It comes less than two months after the club’s primary owner, Steve Baldwin, stepped down as the Spirit’s top executive following allegations that a toxic workplace culture had developed inside the organization.
Those claims first surfaced in August in a Washington Post investigation, which reported that verbal abuse from the Spirit’s former head coach, Richie Burke, had caused at least four of the team’s players to leave the club. (Burke stepped down as the Post was conducting its investigation.) The NWSL subsequently conducted its own investigation, which, according to the Post, unearthed allegations that the Spirit’s organization maintained a toxic, “old boys’ club” culture.
Against this backdrop, Kelley O’Hara’s game-winning goal in the 97th minute of the match gave the Spirit a title that is especially poignant. “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,” O’Hara told the Associated Press. “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.”
Over the weekend, the team received congratulations from a number of high-profile Washingtonians. Here’s a look at a few, via Twitter:
Congratulations to the Washington Spirit on winning your first-ever NWSL championship. Despite a year with no shortage of challenges, you’ve made the District and your country very proud.
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 20, 2021
Alex Ovechkin had some kind words for the @WashSpirit after they won the NWSL championship on Saturday.
Ovechkin became an investor in the team in May. Six months later they are champions of the league. https://t.co/sDbq9ah3PM
— RMNB (@russianmachine) November 20, 2021
GIVE IT UP FOR OUR WASHINGTON SPIRIT ✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/4ohOBbjKwj
— Reese Waters (@reesewaters) November 20, 2021