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Washington Spirit vs. OL Reign 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal moved to Audi Field

Some hard work behind the scenes has resulted in the best outcome for both teams and the NWSL itself

Orlando Pride v Washington Spirit - 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Washington Spirit’s NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal against OL Reign will be at Audi Field after all. Three days after it emerged that venue conflicts at both Lumen Field in Seattle and at Audi Field — which is hosting the Project Play Summit on May 4 — would result in the match taking place at Segra Field in Leesburg, the NWSL announced today that the game would be played in the District instead.

“I want to thank everyone who worked hard to get this playoff match to Audi Field,” said new NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman in a league press 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.”

Fans who already have their Audi Field season tickets for the Spirit will get their current seats at no extra charge, with tickets going on sale to the general public on May 2.

The Challenge Cup’s scheduling difficulties have been frequent, with teams unhappy about playing too many games in too short a period of time for this stage of the season. In the case of the knockout rounds, which take place May 4 and May 7, the issues have gotten more severe due to venue difficulties. Lumen Field was initially open, but the Seattle Sounders advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League final meant they booked their spot before OL Reign were sure they’d need to host a game there.

NWSL announced in the days before the group stage concluded that the hosting role would shift to the lower-seeded team if the higher seed couldn’t host on short notice. With past Reign venues like Memorial Stadium and Cheney Field no longer clearing the bar set by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the NWSLPA, the job passed on to the Spirit, who advanced as the top runner-up.

Washington initially found some bad news, as the Project Play Summit, an event focused on how sports can help develop healthier children and communities, had booked Audi Field back in December 2021. That meant Segra Field, which comes with issues: a turf surface that players have described as especially draining to play on, as well as the difficulty to drive sales for a Wednesday night game requiring most of the population center in the region to go 45-plus minutes west to attend.

A source close to the choice to find a solution at Audi Field characterized the situation as one that required all parties to put in major work behind the scenes. While the Project Play Summit is not quite the same thing as turning the stadium over for a full-on double-header, there are still major issues in terms of signage, security, and gameday staffing, and the game itself was only assured around 11pm Eastern on April 24. That left only nine days for D.C. United, the Spirit, the NWSL, and the Project Play Summit to talk through the logistical challenges and craft a plan to move the game.

Oddly enough, it also means an early back-to-back set of meetings between the Spirit and Reign — the top two contenders for the NWSL title in most pundits’ eyes — on Buzzard Point. The sides meet in regular season play on May 1 in a game that has been set for Audi Field all along, meaning that the Reign will in all likelihood simply set up shop for a few days in the DMV.