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WASHINGTON D.C., (9/16/19) – There were a lot of mixed feelings Saturday night after a tenacious effort by the Spirit concluded in a 2-2 draw against the Reign at Audi Field on Sept. 14 in front of a crowd of 17,418 fans.
However, there was one feeling after the game that was unanimous; Washington’s third-ever trip to Audi Field on Sept. 14 showcased the growing support of Spirit Nation and an increased interest in women’s soccer throughout Washington D.C.
Over 17,000 fans packed the Buzzard Point venue with vibrant signs, Spirit jerseys, rally towels and thunder sticks as the Spirit and Reign FC battled deep into the final minutes of play. The Spirit Squadron led a packed stadium in unapologetically loud cheers all throughout the 90 tense minutes.
“We’ve had two great games here with incredible crowds,” Washington Spirit majority owner Steve Baldwin said. “I think you witnessed that here tonight. I think there’s a great market here for soccer, and we’re interested in playing a lot more games at Audi.”
In the Spirit’s two trips to Audi Field this season, they brought in a total of over 37,200 fans who showed out to support their club. After the game, the players and coaches spoke about how the energy of the crowd plays a part in the game and creates an exciting atmosphere.
“I think the atmosphere is fantastic,” Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke said. “The crowd really lift us, they’re magnificent … I’m hoping we can play here next year, I really do.”
Two-time USWNT World Cup champion and Reign FC forward Megan Rapinoe echoed a similar sentiment on how the Audi Field atmosphere enhanced the experience. The 2019 Golden Ball winner played her first full half since the World Cup ended in July.
“I feel like that could just be a normal game here,” Rapinoe said after the game. “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. It’s a great soccer-specific stadium and I hope that they get to play here all the time.”
Spirit forward Mallory Pugh also explained that “I think the crowd that we get here is amazing and you can start feeding off of it. I think it’s great to have different exposure down here in D.C.”
Seattle Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski even took a moment to congratulate the Spirit front office on their work for the game at Audi Field.
“The atmosphere, the event was amazing — it was a proper football match,” Andonovski said. “The fans got engaged, you got 4 goals, what else can you ask for?”
From the start of the match both teams struggled to develop an attack as they strayed from their gameplans. But the Spirit began to break through the Reign’s defense after swapping wings, which allowed World Cup Champion and Spirit forward Mallory Pugh to find more room on the left side. Pugh eventually beat two defenders and whipped in a cross to Ashley Hatch, who clinically headed the ball past the goalkeeper despite not facing the net.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) September 15, 2019
The 30th-minute goal worked by Pugh and Hatch filled the stadium with cheers and fireworks as the Spirit took the lead. The Sept. 14 contest was Pugh’s first time playing a full match since the World Cup. Coach Burke explained that he didn’t plan on Pugh playing the whole game, but the talented forward requested to stay on the field for her team.
“I said to [Mallory] ‘let’s have a chat at 65 minutes and see where you are,’” Burke said. “Her words to me were: ‘you better not take me off.’ When players of that quality and that caliber are wanting to really die for the team, there’s no way I’m taking her off.”
The tension of the game heated up in the final minute of regular time when Hatch crossed a ball in the 90th minute to Spirit midfield Chloe Logarzo, who took a touch and launched a shot into the back of the net. The spirit mobbed Logarzo near the bench as the crowd erupted in approval of their team’s late goal.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) September 15, 2019
The Reign quickly soiled the late heroics by earning a draw with a game-tying goal in the 92nd minute, but it would not put a damper on the drama-filled night as the crowd still burst into applause after the game.
After the game, Baldwin expressed how the culture of the league is continuing to change and that the two Audi Field games are only a taste of what is to come for the Washington Spirit’s future.
“As I came into this [ownership] I had a belief that we could change the game for the amazing players,” Baldwin said. “We’re the best league in the world. We have the best players in the world and I think when we sell our product that way we can pack a house like we have a couple of times here. We probably had 25 of the fortune 500 companies in the field side suites with me tonight and I’m working on getting every single one of them involved in this league.”
“I think there’s an incredible opportunity for a brand to become a title sponsor of this league to align their brand with the incredible women who play this game. I will not rest until we find that partner that steps up and does that deal.”