The Washington Spirit has struck a deal with D.C. United to play all of its home matches at Audi Field, a breakthrough for the National Women’s Soccer League club after splitting games the past two seasons between the 20,000-capacity MLS stadium in the District and a 5,000-seat venue in Leesburg, people familiar with the plans said Monday.
The sides reached a multiyear deal that includes all regular season matches, potential playoff games and the early-season Challenge Cup for a minimum of 14 home dates, said those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plan freely. The total number will increase should the NWSL follow through on plans to expand in the coming years.
Financial terms were not available, but the Spirit will spend significantly more on facility costs, one person said.
The teams said they did not want to comment.
Between 2013 and 2017, the Spirit played all home games at Maryland SoccerPlex, a 5,000-capacity facility in Montgomery County. The following two seasons, the club experimented by playing a total of three games at Audi Field. After drawing an average of 15,000 fans, the Spirit sought to play there more often. To do so, though, United required Washington to also play matches at Segra Field in Leesburg, a United-owned venue.
Before the coronavirus pandemic altered the 2020 schedule, Washington was due to play four games apiece at Maryland SoccerPlex, Audi Field and Segra Field.
By 2021, the Spirit had left SoccerPlex and entered an agreement with United to play games in both D.C. and Leesburg. The logistics proved difficult for some fans to attend games at Segra Field, which is 35 miles from downtown Washington. The players grumbled about Segra Field’s artificial turf and rudimentary infrastructure.
Last season, the Spirit averaged 8,914 fans in six regular season matches at Audi Field and 2,991 in five appearances at Segra Field. United’s second-division squad, Loudoun United, plays full time at Segra Field, which opened in 2019.
The increase in games in the District comes as the NWSL has raised minimum standards for stadiums to 10,000 seats. Had it continued to play in Leesburg, the Spirit would have had to apply for an exemption.
The deal between the teams also includes the Spirit’s continued use of United’s training center in Leesburg. The NWSL team moved in last winter and plans to stay there for the foreseeable future.
Washington’s stadium plan is the latest off-field move by owner Y. Michele Kang, who, upon taking full control of the organization, pledged to increase investment in the Spirit. She hired Mark Krikorian, a three-time NCAA championship coach at Florida State, this year to oversee soccer operations and hired Coach Mark Parsons (formerly with the Dutch national team) and sports science expert Dawn Scott last month.