Family affair

NWSL Championship game will be a family affair for Kentucky native and Chicago Red Stars guard Arin Wright

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the second time in franchise history, the Chicago Red Stars are participating in the NWSL Championship. After failing in 2019, Chicago will face the Washington Spirit this time on Saturday at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky, where a first champion will be crowned. You can watch or stream the game on CBS or Paramount+.

You can make the case that Chicago is coming back in a third Finals in three years. The 2020 regular season was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, and despite the sport’s hiatus, the league returned to play by introducing the Challenge Cup in place of the regular season games where the Red Stars found themselves a once again in the finals, this time coming up against the Houston Dash.

Red Stars defender Arin Wright, who has been with the club since being drafted in 2015, will be making his first appearance, let alone debut, in a title game and believes the team are reaching their peak at the right time.

“This year, the vibe and collaboration of all the personalities on the team combined with all the adversity we’ve been through, I feel like we’re all on the same page. other years, we’ve all felt that toll,” Wright said on Media Day for the final.

“But this year it feels like we’ve put it all together. It’s not even just trust, our team is so humble and we believe in what we can do together. We feel like the people have written us off throughout the season – and, yes, we feel like we’ve had a few bumps – but it came together at the perfect time.”

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During the 2019 Red Stars Championship, Wright suspended her season after news broke that she was pregnant with son Grady. The timing meant that Wright missed the team’s historic home semi-final in 2019 and further missed out on the opportunity to feature in the 2020 Challenge Cup final.

At the league’s Fall Series exhibition a few months after the Challenge Cup, Wright finally made his return to the field in the final game. Hailing from Lexington, Kentucky, an hour’s drive east of Lynn Family Stadium, home of the Finals, the defender feels like this season has come full circle.

“It’s emotional,” said Wright, who will play a final in his home country. “Playing the race [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 a first [University of] Kentucky player to do so. 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 serving as both the defensive anchor and offensive presence between outside backs. She leads all of her team’s defenders in aerial duels (54.8%) and passes completion in the final third (76.2%) and has registered 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 who we thought would give us more problems,” Red Stars manager Rory Dames said of Wright’s versatility.

“And game by game, she just went one by one and dealt with that. I think it was important for her confidence and her path back. Normally I would say I think she got back to where she was. before she got pregnant, but in Frankly, I think she’s past that point. She’s better. I think she’s managed to come back, and then she’s progressed and developed to another level.

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When Wright takes the field against Washington Spirit, she’ll be the veteran fullback opposite rookie Tautum Milazzo, and the rookie will feel supported by Wright’s presence on the other side.

“[Championship] is the goal when you come to the league and you’re part of a team,” Milazzo said. “But having the players, Arin, in more than one league, more than one final, that definitely makes me more confident. I have people around me who know what they are doing and that has helped me if I’m nervous or whenever there’s a big game.”

Wright thinks the timing to play in her first NWSL Championship seems perfect, and as the team returns to another finals, the first-time mom does it with son Grady in tow, and she’s expecting a lot of family and friends in the stands for the big game.

“I’ve had so many people reach out to me congratulating and saying they’re coming 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 won’t remember it, but there will be pictures and memories. But that says it all. My career has been through a lot. I had a lot of ups and downs. Things I wanted to happen that didn’t happen. Things happened that I didn’t expect and it just went a long way. That’s where I wanted to be.”