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Washington Spirit partners with D.C. United to play at Audi Field, share training grounds

LEESBURG, Va. — The Washington Spirit and D.C. United announced a partnership Tuesday that will see the NWSL team playing home games at Audi Field, Segra Field and the Maryland SoccerPlex in 2020. Come 2021, the Spirit will also train at the forthcoming 40,000-square-foot United training complex, which is currently under construction in Loudoun County.

As part of the agreement, the Spirit will split 12 home games in the 2020 season evenly between the three venues in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the clubs announced Tuesday.

While the Spirit will continue to train at the SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland during the 2020 season, the team will make long-term moves to the future United training complex in the fall of next year. The Spirit will share the turf and grass fields at the complex as well as amenities with United’s Major League Soccer team and USL Championship affiliate, Loudoun United FC.

“The most important aspect of our partnership is the team residing at the new training facility,” Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin said. “It is going to be a world class training facility.”

Continuing into 2021, the Spirit will play five home games at Segra Field and seven at Audi Field.

“Coming into it, my first question was, ‘Are we going to be second-class citizens? Are we going to be the second team to the processional men’s team?’” veteran Spirit defender Tori Huster said. “They are absolutely not doing that. They are seeing us as equals. We are going to all be in the same building, it is really important to have camaraderie with [United] and have a family atmosphere.”

While playing at Audi Field, the Spirit will have its own locker room and staff area in the downtown stadium.

“Audi Field is the key component in all of this,” D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper told Pro Soccer USA. “We want to accommodate them the best we can so that they feel like it is a home for them as well.”

The Spirit played two games at Audi Field this summer, breaking a club attendance record in the process. Over the two games, the Spirit averaged 18,645 — a large jump from the nearly 8,000 that attended an Audi Field match in 2018.

Audi Field opened on July 14, 2019 in a match between D.C. United and the Vancouver Whitecaps. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Since its inception, the Spirit have played home games predominantly at the SoccerPlex in Maryland, which holds 3,500 people. The facility is often the site of local youth sports trainings and games. While the Spirit has worked to create a more professional atmosphere with locker room improvements this season, they pale in comparison to the facilities offered by United.

“The big piece for us is getting to a real professional high-level training base, which I think our players deserve,” Spirit coach Richie Burke said. “When you’re participating at a place where everyone has access to, it sort of demeans it a little bit. We have done a great job at the Maryland SoccerPlex to try to replicate what top professionals have in Europe, but I think this next piece here is just a slam dunk.”

While the perks of the new training facility and playing in bigger venues is a positive, the Spirit are also aware of the challenges that come with playing 12 home games at three different venues.

Players will have to adjust to playing on three different surfaces, in front of different sized crowds in three locations several miles across the metropolitan area. Players were included in the conversations and updated on where talks were with United throughout the process, according to Baldwin.

“We definitely had concerns,” defender Paige Nielsen said. “People are concerned about change, but that’s what we need to make the next step.”

Nielsen shared the players’ hopes that fans follow them to the different stadiums as well as making some new fans along the way.

“We’ll recruit more fans from northern Virginia,” she said. “We’ve got the Germantown fans, and once we move, hopefully, eventually, to Audi, we’ll encompass all those fans.”

To offset the travel hassle for fans who are used to games at the SoccerPlex, the Spirit organization is offering round trip transportation from Germantown to Audi Field and Segra Field, and are looking into a program to cover the cost of tolls for travel to Loudoun County. The ideal situation for the club is to play exclusively at Audi Field, according to Baldwin

“I want to be transparent with everybody. Our objective for our players is to play on the biggest stage possible for every home match,” Baldwin said. “Audi Field is that destination.”

The clubs announced full details through the 2021 season with intentions to “collaborate to maximize the number of matches played at Audi Field each year with all Spirit postseason matches to be played at Audi Field,” according to a release from United.

The agreement has the option of extending through 2029. But how far will this partnership go?

“I think we will be able to answer that question as we get into it in the next couple years. It is all about growing the game,” Kasper said. “We view the growth of soccer as the number one goal for all of us in the DMV. They have shown that they are a great organization. They deserve world-class facilities.”

Tickets for the Spirits’ 2020 season will be sold with options for full season tickets and bundle deals for each location. General admission tickets for the SoccerPlex and Segra Field will be $20 each, with season tickets priced at $65. New with the United partnership, all tickets will be available through Ticketmaster starting as soon as next week.

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