After both NWSL semifinals ended in extra time last weekend the championship match went one better with Western New York Flash defeating the Washington Spirit on penalty kicks behind the heroics of goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo Sunday afternoon in Houston.
After the teams had battled to a 2-2 stalemate over 90 minutes of regulation and 30 more in extra time WNY’s Canadian national team goalkeeper D’Angelo saved three Spirit spot kicks sparking ecstatic celebrations at BBVA Compass Stadium by the Flash that included coach Paul Riley, who was suspended for the final after being red carded during his team’s semifinal victory over the Portland Thorns.
Washington looked like the team that would be celebrating as the clock ticked down on Sunday afternoon, with Crystal Dunn’s two-goal performance looking like the headline. But some added time heroics from Western New York strike duo Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald flipped the script sending the match to extra time and paving the way for the Flash to claim the fourth ever NWSL Championship.
With so many of BBVA’s orange seats conspicuously unoccupied the early talking point in this final was the league’s decision to play the game at a neutral site, especially following the packed house last week in Portland.
The announced crowd of 8,255 seemed lost at the 22,000 plus capacity home of the Houston Dynamo and the atmosphere understandably suffered.
Washington and U.S. WNT star Crystal Dunn livened the place up with an eight-minute goal, assisted in equal parts by Megan Oyster’s accurate long range pass and a poor decision to come off of her line by from eventual match winner D’Angelo.
Trailing 1-0 early didn’t phase WNY and like she did against Portland in the semifinals Samantha Mewis soon got on the board for the Flash. The Spirit lead had lasted just five minutes and it looked like we were about to be treated to another NWSL playoff thriller.
Instead, a succession of ever more frustrating foul calls from referee Matthew Franz drained the life from the game as it limped through a tedious second half and into extra time.
The extra period had barely started when Dunn did it again, taking a feed from her U.S. WNT teammate Ali Krieger and firing Washington back into the lead in the first minute of extra time.
Western New York has earned something of a Comeback Kids reputation this season but as Sunday’s Championship match progressed the Flash seemed to be struggling to the final whistle and this began to look like one comeback too many.
But WNY’s dangerous strike force wasn’t quite ready to let go and Jessica McDonald launched a dangerous cross into the Washington goalmouth intended for Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams. All Williams had to do was beat two Spirit defenders and Washington goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, which Williams did to head home the leveler with virtually the final action of the match.
Then it was on to penalty kicks. After Flash center back Abby Dahlkemper did her part D’Angelo saved Krieger’s try. The Canadian number two went on to stop Tori Huster and then Diana Matheson to seal the win for Western New York making the Flash the third team to raise the NWSL Championship Trophy after the Portland Thorns (2013) and FC Kansas City (2014 and 2015).