Kelley O'Hara, her teammate on the U.S. national team, scored the winning goal in the 97th minute.
Aubrey Bledsoe, the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, was named the MVP of the championship game, preserving the lead with a diving save on Makenzy Doniak’s shot in the 117th minute.
But the star of the Washington Spirit's 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL final in Louisville was 19-year-old Trinity Rodman.
The Red Stars overcome a rash of injuries to reach the final -- they entered the game without U.S. national team veterans Alyssa Naeher, Julie Ertz and Casey Krueger and forward Kealia Watt -- and their bad luck continued when captain Vanessa DiBernardo was injured in the 13th minute and star Mallory Pugh left the game at halftime. But they took the lead in first-half stoppage time, shortly after Pugh's injury, on a goal by Arin Wright.
Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said he didn't want the injuries to deflect from what Washington did to overcome its off-the-field issues that have gone on for months and what it did in its comeback win.
"We played the game," he said. "They won. We lost. Credit to them."
He says the game changed in the 61st minute when Rodman smashed a shot off the crossbar.
“They started getting her isolated in the second half,” Dames said. “That one where she cuts in and out and two seconds later it’s off the outside of the post, I think that’s actually where they came into the game. They were never in the game prior to that, where I felt they were dangerous, but that kind of rattled the group and then they got us on the back foot.”
Rodman, the daughter of former NBA star Dennis Rodman, said opportunities starting coming for her and her teammates in the second half as Chicago defenders were drawn out. But she said couldn't find any space on the play that led to her cross to O'Hara on the winning goal.
“Once I cut it inside," said Rodman, "I knew I wouldn’t be able to dribble inside. I saw runners near post marked, and I saw Kelley popping on the back. Her getting there was insane.”
Dames, who has coached the Red Stars in the NWSL since its launch in 2013, said the league has not had players as young as Portland's Sophia Smith, whom the Red Stars faced in the semifinals, or Rodman, who turned pro without playing for Washington State University because of college soccer's shutdown in 2020. He described her ability to take on players as "electric."
"When you think how young she is and what her ceiling is," he added, "it's actually incredible."