There were countless scenes throughout the Spirit’s record-breaking night at Audi Field on August 24 that quantified how much the match at Audi Field meant to both the team and the fans. The energy at the Buzzard Point venue was infectious from the moment the gates opened and fans packed the stadium, to the moment players finished signing memorabilia long after the game had ended.
Whether fans were present in the stands at Audi Field or watching from home, the excitement that radiated from Spirit forward Crystal Thomas as she jumped into the waiting arms of Cali Farquharson was more than apparent.
“I think it was awesome seeing all the support we got today and all the support from our staff and how they helped create this environment,” Thomas said after the game. “We just want to be an inspiration to these young men and women that are at our games.”
With every chance on net, hard foul, showcase of skill, or breathtaking save, the crowd of 19,871 fans made their presence known as they bellowed cheers from the stands into the night sky. The crowd’s energy was unmistakable from the beginning of the game.
Fans started a stadium-wide wave in the 72nd minute of play and later produced an “Aubrey Bledsoe” chant that celebrated the keeper’s game-saving blocks late in the match.
“Having a crowd that big feels like having an extra player on the field because there’s so much more energy and self-belief,” forward Ashley Hatch said regarding the sellout crowd. “We knew (the crowd) was going to be a lot, but I think they definitely exceeded our expectations. It was so much fun to play in front of all of them.”
Hatch’s header in the 59th minute that clinched the historic victory for the Spirit sent the stadium into a frenzy, including the Spirit coaching staff.
Hatch's flying header!#WASvORL // #CatchTheSpirit pic.twitter.com/BJiCsJz4Yl
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) August 25, 2019
“It’s a goal scorer’s dream,” Hatch said. “[The goal] meant a lot. My team was working so hard, I think it was my responsibility to finally put it in the back of the net for them. It was not only an exciting goal for me, but for all of us because it was such a team effort.”
As the crowd applauded in celebration of the Spirit’s performance, Washington head coach Richie Burke took to the microphone to thank all in attendance for their support, declaring: “Washington, D.C. we are proud to be your team, from the bottom of our heart you’re our 12th man.”
After the match, Burke also praised the players and the fans for an amazing night, saying: “I hope that we were able to inspire the next Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Andi Sullivan in the crowd watching us play tonight,” Burke said. “It was great to have that type of support and a great evening for the players.”
As surreal as the match may have felt, the players and staff emphasized that the nature of the August 24 game should not be seen as an outlier, but instead as a routine night in the NWSL. Team captain Andi Sullivan shared how she and her teammates believe that the league has the talent to make these environments a reality for every game.
“I talked about this with [Mallory] and Rose before, we’ve played in front of crowds like this before – we don’t want it to be that absurd, we want this to be the standard and that’s what we’re going to push for,” Sullivan said.
“You can tell the [fans are] into the game, and feel all those people from the DMV who are here to support us. I think this is something that our ownership has set out to do from the beginning and to make this the norm.”
Majority owner of the Washington Spirit Steve Baldwin shared a similar sentiment after the game: “Tonight is about celebrating the excellence of women’s soccer this decade,” he announced to the crowd.
Baldwin joined the Washington Spirit Ownership Group this season and has been committed to not only cultivating the Spirit culture but the NWSL as a whole. After the game, Baldwin explained that although it was an excellent night, it was only a preview of what is to come for the future of women’s soccer.
“I think we learned that we need to open the gates a little earlier because we’re going to pack the house,” Baldwin said.
“I think our league, our club, have to think so much bigger. In the office, there’s a list of predictions for what the attendance would be for tonight, and my prediction was a sellout. I think if we promote the league properly if we market the league better – I think we can do this over and over again, bigger and bigger.”
The Spirit will return to Audi Field on September 14 to go up against Reign FC as they continue to make history. [TICKETS]