The Washington Spirit will play its next-to-last match of the 2018 season Aug. 25 at home against the Portland Thorns, the National Women¡¯s Soccer League reigning champions. The location, however, remains undecided.
Spirit management says it¡¯s weighing whether to play at Maryland SoccerPlex, its suburban home for the past five seasons, or at Audi Field, the new D.C. United stadium opening this summer near Nationals Park.
The schedule is clear: United is on the road against the New York Red Bulls that weekend and the Washington Nationals are in New York to play the Mets, providing logistical flexibility for an event at the 20,000-capacity soccer venue at Buzzard Point.
United, which owns the stadium, said it¡¯s hopeful of striking a deal with the women¡¯s organization. The Spirit is weighing the economics of playing in a large, more expensive facility and how it would impact season ticket holders. No decision is expected for a few weeks.
SoccerPlex, with a capacity of 5,200, is located in the Montgomery County town of Boyds, 33 miles from downtown Washington, and does not have public transportation options. Audi Field, located in Southwest D.C. at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, is a 10-15 minute walk from the Navy Yard Metro station.
A successful event at Audi Field could prompt the Spirit to play additional matches there in future seasons or perhaps move there full-time someday. The team, however, would have to pay rent to use the facility and coordinate game dates with United and the Nationals, whose parking garages will be used by soccer fans.
There would be some symmetry to the Spirit playing at United¡¯s home; this spring, United will play a regular season match at SoccerPlex against Houston on March 17, one of two alternative home venues while Audi Field is under construction. (The other D.C. ¡°home¡± match in the spring is set for April 14 against Columbus at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.)
The Spirit¡¯s complete schedule was released Wednesday. The first two matches were announced last week: March 24 at Seattle and March 31 against Orlando at SoccerPlex. Ten of the 12 home dates fall on Saturdays; the other two are Wednesdays.
Washington will host Portland twice: May 19 and Aug. 25. The Thorns are among five NWSL teams that share a stadium with an MLS organization ¡ª Orlando, Chicago, Houston and Salt Lake City are the others ¡ª but all but Chicago are owned by that local men¡¯s team.
The Chicago soccer teams will hold a March 31 doubleheader at Toyota Park against their respective Portland counterparts: Fire vs. Timbers, followed by Red Stars vs. Thorns. United and the Spirit¡¯s predecessor, Washington Freedom, conducted doubleheaders many years ago at RFK Stadium, but logistical and financial issues were more difficult than imagined.
United¡¯s investors, Erick Thohir and Jason Levien, are spending more than $150 million on the Audi Field project. (The city contributed up to $150 million for land and infrastructure costs.) The Spirit, owned by local software executive Bill Lynch, rents office space, training fields and the stadium at SoccerPlex.
The Spirit is attempting to expand its brand in the preseason by playing two friendlies elsewhere in the region: against the University of North Carolina on March 10 at Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg and NWSL finalist North Carolina Courage on March 17 at Richmond¡¯s City Stadium.
More soccer coverage: