With the turnout making the Spirit’s two-game average at Buzzard Point 18,645, the question seems not whether the Spirit will return to D.C. United’s stadium next year but how often.
“I am hoping we can play every single match here. I really do,” Coach Richie Burke said. “The atmosphere is fantastic. The crowd really lift us.”
The 14-month-old venue buzzed with excitement from the start — and particularly at the finish — and again provided a big-time feel for a team that plays most home matches at 5,200-capacity Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.
The team averages 3,419 at SoccerPlex and will complete its home schedule there Sept. 28 against the defending champion North Carolina Courage. Washington played in the District once last year, interrupting exclusive appearances at SoccerPlex since 2013.
In deciding how often he wants his team playing at Audi Field next year and beyond, Spirit owner Steve Baldwin will weigh the obvious benefits of operating in the hub of the metro area with the costs of renting Audi Field as well as alienating the small but loyal base of suburban support.
“We are interested in playing a lot more games at Audi,” Baldwin said. “We’ll see where that goes with our conversations with D.C. United, who has been a great partner with us.”
On this night, the crowd came out for not only the NWSL experience but to see U.S. national team star Megan Rapinoe, who in her second match since recovering from an Achilles’ tendon injury entered after halftime.
She gave high marks to the Saturday scene.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time: Women’s soccer can’t draw, right? It’s boring; no one wants to come to it. It’s not fun, right?” she said with a grin. “Incredible, obviously. I feel like that could just be a normal game here. It wasn’t like it was the only game they were going to play here or the championship match or anything — just kind of a normal game in the league — and bringing that many people, the stadium is perfect for it, primed for it.”
World Cup teammate Rose Lavelle remained out of the Spirit lineup with a head injury, but Washington’s Mallory Pugh assisted on the opening goal and logged all 90 minutes.
Soccer followers arriving via Metro crossed paths with baseball spectators departing another Nationals defeat to the Atlanta Braves, creating a rare blend of red-clad sports fans on South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard. Typically, the Nationals and United do not play on the same day.
The Spirit had not played since its previous visit to Audi Field on Aug. 24, when a sellout crowd of 19,871 witnessed a 2-1 victory over the Orlando Pride.
With a month left in the regular season, the crackling atmosphere Saturday collided with a sense of urgency. North Carolina, Portland and Chicago are on their way to the playoffs, leaving one slot up for grabs. Utah, Tacoma, Wash.-based Reign FC, Washington and Houston remain in the mix.
The Spirit (7-7-5) is five points out of the fourth and final playoff berth, while the Reign (8-5-7) pulled level with Utah for the last slot.
The Spirit went ahead in the 30th minute on a brilliant cross by Pugh and an expert header by Ashley Hatch for her team-best sixth goal.
Reign FC needed just five minutes to pull even. Off a corner kick, Bethany Balcer retrieved the ball and drove a low shot from 15 yards through a tangle of players.
In the 90th, Hatch made a splendid turn in the box and crossed to Logarzo on the back side for a rising eight-yarder into the top of the net. But early in the seven additional minutes, Onumonu got behind the defense and slipped an angled shot past Audrey Bledsoe.
“The atmosphere, the event was amazing,” Reign Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “It was a proper football match.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Saturday’s game at Audi field raised the Spirit’s two-game average there.