Spirit Set to “Host” Dash in Name Only After Stadium Dispute Moves Wednesday Match to Houston

By: Justin McMullen
Posted: May 25, 2021

The Washington Spirit, already operating on a quick turnaround ahead of their Wednesday clash with the Houston Dash, will have to adjust to a last minute venue change. Instead of a home game at Segra Field in Leesburg, VA, the NWSL has ordered the match to be moved to Houston due to construction delays leading the unfinished stadium to fail to be “compliant with NWSL stadium requirements,” according to a letter to fans by Spirit owner Steve Baldwin. 

“The Washington Spirit will accept nothing less than world class facilities for players and fans, and we apologize for the burden these circumstances have caused for Spirit Nation, our players, and staff,” read Baldwin’s letter. “We are very disappointed in this outcome and hope that the construction at Segra Field will be completed before our next match scheduled for the venue.”

Though the stadium has been in use since 2019, hosting matches for USL Championship team Loudoun United FC and Major League Rugby side Old Glory DC as well as two Spirit matches during last season’s Fall Series, but many have already pointed out that the stadium was not yet up to professional standards. A Twitter user uploaded pictures of heavy machinery, dumpsters and chain link fencing surrounding the grounds among unmowed grass and portable toilets, decrying the stadium’s lack of running water or bathrooms and lack of locker rooms. In one of the pictures, a small temporary scoreboard rests in a corner next to a steamroller in between two grandstands. 

A report by Washington Post’s Steven Goff says that for the spring, “locker rooms are in temporary modules, fans use portable toilets, and concessions are available from tented kiosks and food trucks.” The NWSL did not specify in their statement or through requests for comment what the offending factors were in the move, mentioning only “construction delays.”

DC United, in a statement provided to Jason Anderson at Black and Red United, claimed that Segra Field was “on track to comply with all NWSL Stadium Standards.” DC United also said that they had agreed to move the match to Audi Fields, an assertion that Baldwin, in his letter, denied. 

“We asked DC United if we could hold the May 26 game at Audi Field, an open date for the venue, and they said no,” wrote Baldwin. Goff has reported that the club agreed to move the match to Audi Field on the condition that the Spirit commit to their scheduled matches at Segra Field once construction is finished. The Spirit had originally scheduled five of their 12 home games at Segra with the other seven at Audi Field, though Goff has reported that the Spirit had negotiated down to seven from their original plan of nine home games at the larger Audi Field. The Spirit’s average attendance at Audi Field during non-Covid times is 15,088 people. Segra Field seats 5,000.

According to the DC United’s website and social media feeds, a Sweat DC workout class was scheduled to take place inside Audi Field on May 26. The club did not respond to a list of questions sent via email by press time. 

As it stands now, the Spirit are left with one fewer home game. They will play 11 matches at home and 13 away, with the rest of the NWSL splitting theirs 12-12. For statistical and record-keeping purposes, the Spirit will be the home team on the 26th against the Dash, though BBVA Stadium in Houston is 1,379.5 miles from the Spirit’s Leesburg headquarters. 

The Spirit already had a quick turnaround in their match schedule, with Wednesday’s contest coming on the heels of last Friday’s 2-0 loss to Racing Louisville. In that match, the Spirit let go a whopping 29 shots and controlled most of the chances, but Louisville grabbed two late goals against the run of play to earn the expansion side’s first win. 

“We have to finish our chances,” said Spirit coach Richie Burke after the loss, noting that the game marked the “second time we’ve made a goalkeeper Player of the Match in as many matches,” after forcing Louisville keeper Michelle Betos into a 10-save performance to preserve her clean sheet. 

“Here we are, with what looks like a recurring theme that in two games, we’ve dominated in most categories, created a lot of chances — I lost count at the number of corners — and we’ve dropped points, said Burke.” “So it’s frustrating. You know, I just said to the players there that I’m very frustrated for them. I’ve been annoyed about the results, but I’m more frustrated for players who put on a great shift and did a lot of things right.”  

The Spirit, two games in and without a win, are not panicking. 

“My level of concern? It’s the second game of the season,” said defender Kelley O’Hara. “Hopefully, the number of chances that we got, we’re going to start finishing some of them. The ball just didn’t fall our way today. There were some opportunities in front of the goal that in any other circumstance would go in, so it’ll come.” 

The Spirit also had some bad luck and scary moments on the injury front. Dorian Bailey, who had entered the game as a substitute, had to be replaced after suffering a dislocated shoulder. Burke said she may be week-to week. In stoppage time, trainers rushed on the field to treat breakout rookie Trinity Rodman, though she was able to walk off the field under her own power. 

Burke said Rodman suffered an elbow to the ribs and was experiencing back spasms, but doesn’t anticipate the injury being too serious. 

“I don’t think it’s anything dramatic,” said Burke. “And that kid’s a brick anyway, she’s a rock. I’m hoping that we’ll do a little recovery and check it out tomorrow, but I think she’s gonna be okay.” 

Burke reiterated that results this early in the season need not precipitate a lack of faith in his squad’s progress ahead of the upcoming match against Houston. 

“I’m not pushing the panic button,” said Burke. “We’re not going to make dramatic changes. We’re going to continue to look at a group that I’m very happy with, hopefully things will turn our way with a little bit of luck going our way.” 

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Photo Credit: Washington Football Team

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