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NWSL upgrades Challenge Cup semifinal stadium after scheduling mishaps left teams competing at notorious field

Meredith Cash   

NWSL upgrades Challenge Cup semifinal stadium after scheduling mishaps left teams competing at notorious field
  • The Washington Spirit and OL Reign will now play their NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal at Audi Field.
  • The news comes after Insider reported on scheduling woes forcing the game to a notorious venue.

The Washington Spirit and OL Reign will play their National Women's Soccer League Challenge Cup semifinal match at an arena fitting for the occasion after all.

After scheduling conflicts shrouded the build-up to the May 4 game, the league collaborated with several other parties to bring the highly-anticipated semifinal matchup to Audi Field.

With a 20,000-person capacity, a grass field, and a location in the heart of downtown D.C., the stadium is a significant upgrade from the initial host venue at Segra Field.

"I want to thank everyone who worked hard to get this playoff match to Audi Field," NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said via release. "The spirit of partnership exhibited to make this work is exactly the kind of problem solving that makes me proud to work in the sports industry."

"This game between two spectacular teams will no doubt be one of the highlights of what has already been an exciting Challenge Cup and we're pleased to have secured a world-class venue to showcase some of the greatest soccer players in the world," she added.

From the moment it became clear the Spirit would face OL in the penultimate game of the league's early-season tournament, the matchup became embroiled in logistical chaos and embarrassing circumstances.

Reign — the league's Seattle-based franchise — earned home-field advantage as the top-performing team in the Challenge Cup. But their usual digs at Lumen Field were occupied for the night in question, as the Seattle Sounders are set to compete in the Concacaf Champions League Final with a chance to become the first-ever MLS team to win the competition.

Though a representative for OL told Insider that "the club started to search for solutions to retain their potential home field advantage" as soon as the potential scheduling conflict with the Sounders "became apparent," the Reign had no luck securing a replacement venue. The club had no choice, then, but to relinquish home field advantage to Washington.

But the Spirit's preferred home stadium — which boasts a 20,000-person capacity and a grass field — was also initially unavailable for May 4. Audi Field was set to play host to The Aspen Institute's "Project Play Summit" that day and, ironically, new NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman was slated to speak on a panel for the event's keynote session.

So instead, the semifinal game between the Reign and Washington was scheduled to kick off some 40 miles northwest at the Spirit's other home: the aforementioned Segra Field. The 5,000-seat stadium in Leesburg, Virginia, has become notorious across the league for its lackluster facilities, its distance from the city, and its artificial turf field.

Fans and reporters alike took to social media to express their disapproval of the venue hosting the semifinal. Just days later, the NWSL responded to their calls for a new host stadium.

In working with Washington, D.C. United, and The Aspen Institute, Berman and the league office were able to secure Audi Field for the original start time — seemingly without disrupting the Project Play Summit agenda.

The commissioner — who began her tenure at the league's helm just one week before this saga unfolded — is still slated to participate in the 11:10 a.m. ET keynote panel alongside US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, and US Soccer Foundation CEO and President Ed Foster-Simeon.

And now, in addition to having obtained a better venue for the game in one of her first acts as leader of the NWSL, Berman has scored herself a much shorter commute to the Wednesday-night showdown between the Spirit and Reign.

Fans can buy tickets to the game beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Monday, May 2 or tune in from home at 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.


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