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The Washington Spirit’s turbulent journey to the 2021 NWSL Championship

The Washington Spirit won their first ever NWSL championship trophy on Saturday after beating the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 with a last-minute winner from none other than Kelly O’Hara.

It was the 33-year-old’s first goal for the Spirit, making him the oldest NWSL athlete to ever score in a playoff game. While the team’s efforts earned them the trophy on Saturday afternoon, it was their determination and passion off the field that marked the 2021 season as historic.

The club had to lose everything. The staff turnover and internal turbulence prepared the team for failure. Let’s look back on the timeline of all of the chaos the ghost caused before it miraculously reached the finale.

In August, the team announced that long-time head coach Richie Burke would step down from his duties and move to Spirit’s front office.

Initially, the NWSL club cited “health concerns” as the reason for the exit, but the Washington Post quickly revealed the complicated rationale.

Posted a story quoting the toxic work environment Burke created and spoke to former player Kaiya McCullough when she alleged the former head coach used racist language and verbal abuse.

The team announced an investigation is pending after the release. On September 28, Richie Burke was officially released following the results of the case.

While many thought this would be the end of the chaos of the mind, the NWSL inquiry was actually “expanded to include allegations of a toxic work culture for female employees.”

Suddenly there were more problems than expected.

Though full details were not released, Hensley-Clancy reported that “co-owner Steve Baldwin, Burke and sports company president Larry Best had created a culture within the club that prevented multiple players and staff from expressing themselves.”

Fans and players banded together to call out management and many banded together to protest games.

On October 5th, Steve Baldwin resigned as CEO and managing partner and handed over full authority over all club activities “to form the head coach of DC United and the new president of the team operations Ben Olsen.

His actions did not completely satisfy viewers after failing to indicate whether he would sell his stake in the club. In addition, critics pointed to the poor judgment of leaving Olsen, a person with no prior experience with his role, in a position of immense power.

The team’s staffing and ownership problems persist.

As the Spirit maneuvered through extraordinary circumstances, the League as a whole also struggled with the repercussions. North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was sacked after allegations of sexual assault came to light, while Commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down from criticism after an avalanche of criticism.

Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue has identified an early exit from the club following an investigation into the league’s anti-harassment policy.

Racing Louisville sacked manager Christy Holly during the season “for good reason” without further explanation, while OL Reign manager Farid Benstiti resigned after being asked to step down.

To top it off, the team had to give up two games due to Covid-19 protocol violations.

Against all odds, the Washington Spirit players rallied. Individuals came together to support one another and to work together towards one goal: mastery.

Spectacular performances from O’Hara, Andi Sullivan and Trinity Rodman secured the final win, but the team’s unity off the field really fueled its success.

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