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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the second time in franchise history, the Chicago Red Stars are in the NWSL Championship. After coming up short in 2019, Chicago this time around will square off against the Washington Spirit on Saturday at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky, where a first-time champion will be crowned. You can watch or stream the match on CBS or Paramount+.

You can make the case that Chicago is working its way back into a third final in three years. The 2020 regular season was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, and despite the sport taking a pause, the league returned to play by introducing the Challenge Cup in place of the regular season games where the Red Stars found themselves in the final once more, this time coming up short against the Houston Dash.

Red Stars defender Arin Wright, who has been with the club since being drafted in 2015, will be making her first appearance, let alone a start, in a title game and believes the team is peaking at the right time.

"This year, the vibe and collaboration of all the personalities on the team combined with all the adversity that we have been through, I feel like we are all on the same page. Compared to other years, we all have felt this toll," Wright said at Media Day for the final. 

"But this year, it feels like we've put it all together. It's not even just confidence, our team is so humble, and we believe in what we can do together. We feel like people have been writing us off throughout the season -- and, yeah, we feel like we have had some bumps -- but it has come together at the perfect time."

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During the Red Stars' 2019 championship run, Wright had her season put on hold after the announcement of her pregnancy with her son Grady. The timing meant that Wright missed the team's historic home semifinal in 2019 and further missed the opportunity to participate in the 2020 Challenge Cup final. 

During the league's Fall Series exhibition a few months after the Challenge Cup, Wright finally made her return to the pitch in the final game.  As a native of Lexington, Kentucky, which an hour's drive east of Lynn Family Stadium, home of the final, the defender feels like this season has been full circle.

"It's emotional," Wright said, who will get to play a final in her home state. "Playing Racing [Louisville] was emotional. Coming back here even in the regular season, but now I've gone beyond that and I'm playing in my first-ever NWSL Championship as the first [University of] Kentucky player to do it. But on top of all that? I want to win it. I want to win the championship."

Wright has been a regular-season staple for Chicago, at times being both the defensive anchor and the attacking presence between the outside backs. She leads all defenders on her team in aerial duels (54.8%) and pass completion into the final third (76.2%) and recorded one assist this season. 

"During the Olympics when Casey [Krueger] was gone, we kept moving Arin to the side that usually had the stronger player that we thought would give us more issues," said Red Stars coach Rory Dames of Wright's versatility.  

"And game by game, she just went one by one and dealt with that. I think that was big for her confidence and her way back. Normally, I would say I think she's back to where she was before she got pregnant, but in all frankness, I think she's beyond that point. She's better. I think she's made it back and then she's progressed and developed to another level."

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When Wright takes the pitch against Washington Spirit, she will be the veteran fullback opposite of rookie Tautum Milazzo, and the rookie feels supported by Wright's presence on the other side. 

"[Championship] is the goal when you come to the league and get on a team," Milazzo said. "But to have the players, Arin, in more than one championship, more than one final, it definitely makes me feel more confident. I have people I am surrounded by who know what they are doing and that has helped me if I'm nervous or whenever there is a big game."

Wright believes that the timing of playing in her first NWSL championship feels perfect, and as the team makes a return to another final, the first-time mother is doing so with her son Grady in tow, and she expects lots of family and friends in the stands for the big game. 

"I've had so many people reach out to congratulate and say they are coming out to support. I don't think I'm going to look out and see someone I don't know. But to share this with him [Grady] means everything," Wright said. "Obviously, he's not gonna remember this, but there will be photos and memories. But it means everything. My career has been through a lot. I've had a lot of ups and downs. Things that I've wanted to happen, that haven't happened. Things that have happened that I didn't expect to happen and it's just been a long road. This is where I wanted to be."