After the USWNT’s gold-medal triumph during the 2019 World Cup, the question that remained was whether women’s soccer would be able to capitalize on the huge popularity it saw this summer. On Saturday, August 24, the Washington Spirit answered the question of what that success could look like in the NWSL.
The Washington Spirit sold out every seat in DC’s Audi Field, with 19,871 in attendance, smashing their previous franchise record for attendance (7,976) by over double. The team’s usual home stadium, Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland, tops out at around 5,500.
Despite missing World Cup stars Rose Lavelle and Mal Pugh from the lineup due to injury, the sold-out crowd remained electric throughout the 90 minutes. Chants of “Let’s go Spirit!” and “Equal pay!” rang out through the stadium.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) August 25, 2019
The Spirit went up early in the first half after a gaffe from USWNT and Orlando goaltender Ashlyn Harris. Orlando pulled the score even in the first half with a goal from the legendary Marta.
Spirit’s Ashley Hatch notched a diving header off a cross from Tori Huster to give Washington the lead in the second period.
The game remained tightly contested until the final minute. Spirit goaltender Aubrey Bledsoe made several key saves as Orlando poured on the pressure, including a shot from Marta which rang off the crossbar late in the game.
The Spirit took home a much-needed three points from the game. The team currently sits sixth in the NWSL standings, and had been without a win since July 24.
After the game, the Spirit players saluted their fans with a victory lap around the stadium. Players from both teams, including the injured Lavelle, stayed to sign autographs and take photos with the numerous fans that stayed in the stadium after the final whistle.
The Spirit players spoke of the boost that the sellout stadium gave the home team.
“Having a crowd that big feels like having an extra player on the field because there’s so much more energy and self-belief,” said Spirit forward Ashley Hatch. “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.”
But Spirit captain Andi Sullivan doesn’t want the attendance record to be celebrated as just an outlier, she wants it to be the norm.
“We want this to be 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.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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