Maryland SoccerPlex - Maryland Bobcats FC
Photos by Gregory Koch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.29
Maryland SoccerPlex 18031 Central Park Circle Boyds, MD 20841
Year Opened: 2000 Capacity: 4,000
Bobcats Are At The Plex
Although top-division soccer in the United States has enjoyed great stability since the start of Major League Soccer in 1996, the lower divisions have been somewhat more chaotic. For a while, the United Soccer League, or USL, was the second division, but then that split into two leagues – the USL Championship, which was second division, and USL League One, which was the third division. In 2019, a second league decided to join the third division, the National Independent Soccer Association, or NISA for short. NISA has been plagued by significant instability, in just three years, one of which was wiped out due to COVID-19, six NISA teams have folded or moved to other leagues.
One team that is still there, and joined NISA in 2021, is Maryland Bobcats FC. The Bobcats began as an amateur team in even lower divisions before moving up to NISA and playing their home games at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, a suburb of Washington, D.C., although it has a Boyds address. The SoccerPlex used to be home to the Washington Spirit of NWSL as well as occasional early-round D.C. United matches in the U.S. Open Cup prior to the construction of Audi Field. Most notably, it hosted one MLS match in March of 2018 as Audi Field would not be ready until July and the league required D.C. United to play two home matches prior to that point.
What is called the SoccerPlex for the purposes of this review is formally known as Maureen Hendricks Field at the Maryland SoccerPlex and is just the main stadium nestled among many soccer fields used for youth and recreational soccer.
Food & Beverage 1
When Stadium Journey visited a Bobcats game, the only thing for sale was beer, from a local brewery. The Bobcats have their own IPA, known as Halftime, and prices were somewhat reasonable at around $6-$7 a cup depending on what you were drinking. However, this was literally all that was for sale – if you wanted something to eat or something to drink that wasn’t alcoholic, you were out of luck. We were told a food truck comes sometimes, but it was not there when we went.
The SoccerPlex is an intimate 4,000-seat arena with seats on both sides of the field, although only one side is typically open for Bobcats games due to the small crowds. The side that is open consists of plastic bench seats, and only the top row located right at the top of the concourse has backs. All seats provide an up-close view of the action, and there is a scoreboard located to your left as you sit in these seats, although many of its features do not work.
The team doesn’t seem to put much effort into home games here, but what brings this up a notch is the atmosphere brought by the Supporters Section. The Old Bae Brigade (that is not a typo) sits behind the visitor’s bench, although “sits” is not the right word here as they will be standing, waving flags, and banging drums for the whole game. Although they are much smaller in number than you would see in MLS or even a USL stadium, they still bring some much-needed energy to the Plex.
The SoccerPlex is located in Gaithersburg, about half an hour outside Washington, D.C. It is located in a sprawling complex in a residential area, and there is absolutely nothing within walking distance. Fans will have to drive several miles back towards I-270 before they will find anything useful. There are a number of shopping centers located on Maryland Route 118 once you get close to the interstate that contains mostly chain restaurants, but these are several miles away.
If you’re looking for a more natural setting, Hoyles Mill Conservation Park is located just north of the Plex and offers scenic hiking trails and beautiful green space.
In contrast to the previous tenants of the SoccerPlex, the Maryland Bobcats average only a few hundred fans a game. The Old Bae Brigade is the official Supporters Group and brings some energy to the stadium, and the other fans can get into it too. Some of them are young families with children who play youth soccer at some of the other fields at the SoccerPlex, which seems to make them a lot more into the game here than they otherwise would be. Others are locals just wanting to check out a game. Despite this being a pretty new team, the fans do seem to know a lot about them. The only problem is that there aren’t that many fans.
Getting to the stadium is relatively easy – take exit 15B off of I-270 and proceed for several miles to the stadium. That’s where the good news ends. Although there are a large number of lots throughout the SoccerPlex, only a couple are right next to the stadium. Although the stadium crowd alone isn’t nearly enough to fill them up, there are often other sporting events going on in the complex on the same day. If that is the case, the lots may already be full when you arrive even if you get there sometime before gates open. Seeing as you don’t really want to arrive at 9 in the morning for a night game just to be able to park close by, you may have to walk a bit to get to the stadium.
The good news is that since the Bobcats don’t draw that many fans, traffic getting out of the lots after should not be a problem unless a large youth sports event lets out at the same time. This had been an issue for the Spirit and D.C. United as the roads were not built to accommodate that much traffic, but this is the one silver lining in not having that many fans.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets are $10 for the Supporters Section or $17 for general admission seating anywhere else in the stadium. However, since nobody is checking what kind of ticket you have, you can probably get away with buying the cheaper one. If you buy the more expensive ticket and spontaneously decide to join the Old Bae Brigade, nobody will stop you from doing that either – just keep in mind you will be standing the entire game. Discounted youth tickets are available for $8.
Although this isn’t too pricey, the lack of experience here still makes that price just par for the course, nothing more. You’ll have an opportunity to see a soccer game for a relatively low price, but won’t be getting much more out of it.
There are flags behind one of the goals representing all the nations that Bobcats players hail from. As soccer is an international sport, many countries are represented.
Just outside the stadium, there is an exhibit from the United States Department of Agriculture on the history of turfgrass. There’s probably some fan out there who would be interested in that.
When NISA was founded, it promised to be a new kind of soccer league, free from the burdens imposed by MLS and USL, to create the best fan experience. Sadly, it has not delivered on those promises. The Maryland Bobcats, like most of NISA, play in a mostly empty stadium and are plagued by experience issues like missing food trucks, malfunctioning scoreboards, and ticket scanners that lose their internet connection and can’t scan tickets properly. However, it is worth remembering that USL and even MLS had their growing pains initially as well. Hopefully, NISA can get past them.