Forward Mallory Pugh (right) and the Chicago Red Stars can win their first-ever NWSL title Saturday. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

NWSL Championship: Talking Spirit vs. Red Stars with Just Women’s Sports

With the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit deciding the 2021 NWSL Championship Saturday, we spoke with JWS’ Jessa Braun to set the stage for the proceedings

It’s winning time in Louisville.

On Saturday, Lynn Family Stadium plays host to the 2021 NWSL Championship, with the Washington Spirit meeting the Chicago Red Stars with WoSo glory on the line. Chicago has caught quite the run of form, blanking NY/NJ Gotham FC and the two-time champion Portland Thorns in back-to-back games to reach the weekend’s final. Washington, meanwhile, blanked two-time champs North Carolina Courage before outlasting OL Reign in a 2-1 semifinal affair.

Now, just 90 minutes stand between one skilled, dangerous side and a first-ever league title. And to help Boardroom get set for this decisive matchup, we caught up with Just Women’s Sports columnist Jessa Braun to identify some key storylines and establish what’s at stake Saturday.

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SAM DUNN: Who has the edge on Saturday? Do you see a certain detail or matchup in play here that could be the tipping point?

JESSA BRAUN: Both teams are so good and I’m equally expecting both to win, but if I have to choose one, it would be Chicago because they’ve shown more consistency in their energy and play. That might come with the fact that they’re a more experienced team.

SD: How do you put to words the season Trinity Rodman has had and the run of form she’s currently on?

JB: Trinity plays with so much grit, intelligence, and precision no matter where she is on the field.

She made it very clear at the beginning of the season that she didn’t want to be referred to as “Dennis Rodman’s daughter,” instead wanting to create her own legacy — and she did exactly that. I always forget she’s a rookie. It’s wild to think this is just the beginning of her career.

SD: Chicago is still looking for a first NWSL trophy. What’s different about this year’s team?

JB: Two words: Mal Pugh.

She’s been an asset on the attack for the Red Stars, and the trade [from the former Sky Blue FC] has been good for her, too. She’s been given a space to play her own style with this team, and it’s led her to a standout season. Chicago didn’t have her when they beat the top-ranked Portland Thorns in the semis, so it’s scary to think of what they could be capable of with Pugh on the pitch Saturday.

SD: This game’s on CBS — how do you evaluate the progress of promotion, marketing, and broadcasting the league to reach as many soccer fans as possible?

JB: There’s progress, and progress is always good no matter how big or small. But there’s still so much work ahead.

CBS’s main channel needs to show more games because it’s way more accessible. The NWSL lost so much of its Canadian audience during the playoffs because the Twitch stream wasn’t available to the country, and CBS Sports Network, the channel the games were played on, is extremely rare in Canada.

SD: What are the accomplishments/milestones this season that the NWSL’s players and fans should be most proud of this season?

JB: The NWSL is so, so deep and I think it’s worth noting the amount of talent this league is showcasing. The future is especially bright. So many new players just got called up to the national team, and one of the youngest teams in the league, the Washington Spirit, just made the championship.

On another note, I think it’s been good to see the league be pushed in a new direction. NWSL players have really gone above and beyond their job descriptions this season while advocating for their workplace rights. They didn’t have to, but they did because they care about the future of their sport.

The 2021 NWSL Championship between the Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars kicks off at 12 p.m. ET from Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky and will be televised on CBS.

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