Aubrey Bledsoe finding freedom in Christ with Washington Spirit in NWSL title game

The road to Saturday’s National Women’s Soccer League championship game has not always been the smoothest for the Washington Spirit and their goalkeeper, Aubrey Bledsoe.

The team needed two unanswered goals to knock off OL Reign in the semifinals after conceding the fastest goal in NWSL playoff history (a little over two minutes into the game). What’s more, the Spirit’s postseason run is taking place under the leadership of Kris Ward, who stepped in when head coach Richie Burke was fired in September following an investigation into his mistreatment of players.

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The 2021 Washington Spirit’s 24-game season started back on May 16 with a 1-1 draw against the Orlando Pride. The Spirit experienced ups and downs throughout the season but began playing their best soccer during the home stretch, as they went 5-0-1 in their last six regular-season games. The impressive finish earned them a No. 3 seed in this year’s newly expanded six-team playoff.

Bledsoe is the undisputed starter now, but that hasn’t always been the case. She spent time with Sky Blue FC (now Gotham FC) and the Orlando Pride as a backup before being traded to Washington and becoming the team’s starter in 2018. The Spirit won just two of the 24 games they played during her first year with the team.

The following season, Washington just missed out on the four-team playoff and Bledsoe was named NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year for 2019. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and a disjointed season divided into two separate competitions.

This season, Bledsoe has started all 30 of the team’s games, which marks the third straight season she has not missed a game across all competitions.

Through it all, Bledsoe has leaned on her faith in Christ. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, with two believing parents and with an expectation that she too would go to church every week.

“I grew up in a strong Christian household,” she said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2019. “My mom and my dad really paved the way and laid a good foundation for my siblings and I, but [church attendance] was more of a requirement. We would have to be in church every Sunday and sit there with our Bibles and pay attention. So for me, it was more just an act of obedience.”

As a college soccer player at Wake Forest University from 2010 to 2013, Bledsoe was a two-time first-team All-ACC selection and a three-time All-American selection by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Being away from home, she said, forced her to take responsibility for her faith and decide whether she really wanted to pursue a personal relationship with Christ.

“For me, it was kind of a gradual surrender to the Lord and letting go of my pride,” said Bledsoe, who will turn 30 on Saturday. “I didn’t come from a broken family; I didn’t feel, like, a need for Christ at this point because I had loving parents. I had everything. I had the good life, so to speak.”

As she continued to grow in her faith, Bledsoe started to experience the peace that came with knowing what she does on the field is secondary to who she is in Christ.

“The Lord is calling us to a life of freedom and joy, and I was missing out on that by thinking I already had it through what the world tells you matters,” she said on the podcast. “Once I learned that it’s not about my performance and I could rest in Christ’s performance on the cross, it just opened my eyes.”

Bledsoe’s career has taken her around the world in addition to playing in the NWSL. She’s played in Norway, Denmark and – most recently – Australia. Yet whether she is on another continent or playing for an NWSL championship, Bledsoe strives to spread the love of Christ at every opportunity.

“My faith in God influences everything about my soccer career,” she said in an interview with His Huddle a year ago. “I’m still playing professional soccer because I believe that is what God has called me to right now. I’ve played overseas and now in D.C. and think of myself as a ‘missionary disguised as a soccer player.’ My faith in Christ allows me to play freely and not be as motivated by fear.”

Bledsoe and the Spirit face the Chicago Red Stars in Saturday’s final, which will air on CBS. Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET.

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