The stage is set for the 2022 NWSL Final. The Portland Thorns will take on the Kansas City Current this Saturday, October 29th at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., home of the Washington Spirit. Although the reigning champs are not playing in this match, the team’s supporters groups are gearing up to showcase all that the host city of D.C. has to offer for soccer fans.
Starting Friday night, NWSL fans will be treated to a number of events organized by Spirit Squadron with help from Rose Room Collective, including a pick-up soccer game co-hosted by Women In Soccer the morning of the final, and a post-game brunch on Sunday to wrap up the championship weekend..
Coming to DC for the final?— Spirit Squadron (@SpiritSquadron) October 20, 2022
We are very excited to offer a number of events for home & traveling supporters. All are welcome.
Take a look at our list of events and plan accordingly! Full details for each event can be found @ https://t.co/7OV7s4AP5P pic.twitter.com/n67JzO4qrX
D.C. locals and members of Spirit supporters’ groups are looking forward to welcoming fans to their city, and showcasing for the entire league what makes the nation’s capital America’s soccer city.
Washington D.C.: More than just the Mall
Spirit supporters groups organized the events not only to highlight D.C. as a soccer mecca but to make visiting fans feel at home. As Douglas Reyes-Ceron, co-founder of the Rose Room Collective told AllForXI, the events are set up with the intention to gather all fans coming into the area to socialize, connect, and “just plain have fun.”
“I hope people take away the fact this area is more than just the monuments, museums and Capitol Hill,” Reyes-Ceron said. “As the saying goes, that space is Washington. The rest of the city that doesn’t have anything to do with that, that’s DC. With that, there’s been an entire history of soccer in this city going back to the 1970’s with the Diplomats and Lincoln Phillips’ title-winning Howard University soccer team. In 2022, this history continues onward and very much with women’s soccer. The USWNT were here just a couple months prior and supporters packed Audi Field despite the match being played on a Tuesday night.”
For Meredith Bartley, the Vice President of the Spirit Squadron, the hope is that soccer fans from the NWSL and beyond will get a chance to see what the NWSL brings to the soccer community of D.C. beyond MLS.
“Our recommendations are city-wide and hopefully off the beaten tourist path, and I hope that the events we have planned can showcase some great community spots and groups,” Bartley told AllForXI. “Everyone we reached out to has been so excited to have us and there should be something for everyone. The purpose of the Squadron, and all SGs of course, has been having built-in friends, and that’s especially true with this. Even if folks don’t know anyone at the game they can always come hang and we hope they do!”
In the hours before the match, the NWSL has organized a Fan Fest featuring athlete autographs, music, food, balloon artists and face painting, the CarMax Skills Challenge, Budweiser Build-a-Bar, Nationwide Kick to Win and more. However, it is the local supporters groups that have taken up the mantle of showcasing D.C. soccer culture for the fans coming in from far and wide.
Morgan Lavan, a member of the Spirit Squadron’s Finals Committee echoed Barteley and Reyes-Ceron, expressing her excitement for visitors to experience D.C. as a soccer city “beyond the Mall.” Each event has been meticulously planned to ensure every fan can partake in the experiences surrounding the final.
“Friday night, the supporters groups are hosting a party at the Brig, which is an outdoor beer garden in a neighborhood near Audi,” Lavan said. “We chose the Brig so anyone, including immunocompromised fans, could enjoy the festivities. The Brig has rolled out the red carpet for us and will offer specials and themed drinks, as well as heat lamps and umbrellas depending on the weather.”
One of the most highly anticipated pre-game events is an informal pickup game for all genders and experience levels co-hosted by Women in Soccer (WIS). The event is co-sponsored by District Sports, a local nonprofit that organizes soccer leagues and tournaments in the area, and FTSC, a local nonprofit LGBTQ+ soccer club in DC. As Lavan explained, FTSC has provided integral support to the event including raffle prizes, athletic shorts, and a soccer ball.
Coming Together for Women’s Soccer
Over the years, the NWSL final has provided a landing place for supporters of all teams to come together and celebrate the league, women’s soccer, and reinforce relationships that for the most part, live online. For Reyes-Ceron, this coming together is just as exciting as the soccer game itself.
“I’m most looking forward to seeing so many faces in person that I primarily communicate with online via social media. I went to Louisville last year and meeting so many faces for the first time in person was honestly one of the most memorable aspects of that weekend, along with seeing old faces again,” Reyes-Ceron said. “With a longer lead-in time to prepare, so many Supporters and media personnel of all kinds have openly talked about coming down here. Along with that is showing people what is in this city, going back to the prior point about what DC is once you get past the regular tourist destinations.”
With fans of the sport coming from far and wide, local fans are ready to show that the future of women’s soccer is bright in D.C.
As Bartley explained, Spirit supporters groups fought hard to keep the Spirit in D.C. and heal from many tumultuous years. They are looking to what the future holds for the team under the leadership of new owner Y. Michele Kang. “It hasn’t always been easy to be a Spirit fan so I think the whole thing feels like a celebration,” Bartley said. “We get to show off Audi field, our home, and what we’re building here - in a stress-free way, with no horse in the race!”
This year, the NWSL broke a number of attendance records, including the semi-final and quarter-final games this year which garnered well over 20,000 fans. Lavan hopes that the excitement around last year’s championship team in D.C. plus hosting the final this year will be the push the city needs to garner that same kind of support.
“I hope DC hosting the NWSL finals inspires more in-person attendance at Washington Spirit games. The team is so special and is unbelievably fun to watch in person. If you’ve watched Trinity Rodman or Ashley Sanchez on TV, it’s nothing compared to seeing them in person,” she said. “This year wasn’t our year for several reasons, but I know we are capable of so much more and I can’t wait for next season. This team, and really all of the NWSL teams, deserves regular sellout crowds so I hope this event inspires more interest and bigger turnout.”
Reyes-Ceron is equally as hopeful for the future of the Spirit in D.C. Even with the challenges of the split-venue setup with Audi and Segra Field, and the scheduling inconsistencies that cropped up this season, he sees positive strides being made to increase fan turnout in subsequent seasons.
“Winning the championship last year brought a new swath of fans into the Spirit scene with consistent efforts to keep that energy up into the future,” he said. “I’m hopeful that being able to watch a top-class game in person with no stakes on the line this time continues that trend and show people how amazing these athletes are.”
Ultimately, as soccer on both the men’s and women’s sides continues to grow in the United States, Bartley is passionate about showing the world that D.C. is America’s soccer city. “Between hosting the NWSL final and a USWNT game this year, plus the Spirit’s 2021 championship, I hope it continues to put us on the map,” they said. “I have also heard this mentioned many times in the same breath as the MLS All-Star match next season so that just goes to show that we’re serious. DC is a sports town, so we have to compete with a lot of teams for diehards, but we’re slowly but surely proving we’re worth the hype!”