The Washington Spirit defeated North Carolina Courage, 1-0, in the quarterfinal of the NWSL playoffs on Sunday in extra time at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. NWSL 2021 golden boot winner Ashley Hatch scored the winner for the Spirit in the second-half of extra time to seal the win and a date against OL Reign next week in the semifinals.
It was an emotional and tough game for both teams after dealing with off-field turmoil in the regular season. The Spirit have had to navigate their season through a behind-the-scenes rift between the ownership group and a brief outbreak of COVID-19 among players. For the Courage, the termination of head coach Paul Riley after allegations of sexual misconduct of former players in years past was brought to light in recent bombshell reports.
It took extra time for the match to be settled between the two teams, and for the Courage a number of unknowns moving forward, but a new start to look forward to.
"I mean that wasn't like we just got blown out 7-0, we lost in the last couple of minutes of overtime and did everything we possibly could to be great," said interim Courage head coach Sean Nehas after the match to the media.
"That's a special quality of a special group of players who went through a unique thing and you know, we created a good foundation. I don't know what's gonna happen moving forward. I don't. I mean, but one thing I do know is that they'll be back. The Courage will be back."
Clash of goalkeeping excellence
The Aubrey Bledsoe of the Spirit and Casey Murphy of the Courage put on a clinic with several jaw-dropping saves in regulation to keep the game scoreless and their teams in the mix.
Bledsoe ended the match with eight saves and Murphy with 13, and it was a the rarest mistake in extra time that lead to a break through for the Spirit. Rookie of the year candidate Trinity Rodman worked her way into the box and her shot forced the 6-foot-1 Murphy to get low and deflect it, but the second chance rebound fell to Hatch who slotted the ball away for the eventual win.
The dramatic finish means the Spirit, who will now head to Tacoma, Washington, to face OL Reign on Nov. 14 on CBS Sports Network. The winner will book a ticket to the NWSL Championship in Louisville on Nov. 20.