SEABROOK – Changes at the Maryland Soccer Foundation, which includes the Maryland SoccerPlex, Discovery Sports Center and SAM Soccer, in the leadership level as Founding Executive Director Trish Heffelfinger announced her retirement after being a part of the venue’s inception for 20 years.
Heffelfinger joined in 1998 and was a key part in the development of the SoccerPlex’s existence in Germantown. The foundation, together with Maureen and John Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Communications, worked in tandem with nine soccer clubs and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to open the sports complex in October 2000.
“I decided that I had a marvelous career with the SoccerPlex, and it was time to pass the torch on to somebody with new ideas and new energy that could take it to the next level,” Heffelfinger said.
During her tenure, Heffelfinger said her goal was always to bring and keep the sport in Germantown. She started working on gaining political support within the county, and once the complex opened, she focused in on the business and relationship side of the foundation.
Partnerships with the Montgomery County Council, the Planning Board, the Visit Montgomery marketing organization and the Germantown community have been key in keeping the SoccerPlex a viable asset. The venue hosts over 650,000 people a year.
“I was probably the right person at the time to start the organization and take it for the next 20 years,” Heffelfinger said. “There were some unique things that had to be done at that time, but I feel really good with where the organization is right now.”
The success of the SoccerPlex has driven nearly $25 million in annual economic benefit and impact to the region’s overall economy, according to a press release. It was recently named the best soccer facility in the United States by Connect Sports. Councilmember Craig Rice presented a proclamation to the foundation on Dec. 11 after the sports complex received the recognition.
“Here is a pint-size woman who packed a punch, and when I say that, folks do not realize what kind of a powerhouse this lady is,” Rice said about Heffelfinger. “The great thing about being a powerhouse is it is not in terms of the weight of making sure your voice is heard and making sure things get done but in terms of your influence in a community and your ability to make sure that people understand and recognize how important this gem is for Montgomery County.”
Heffelfinger said she is already working on another project that was imitated by councilmember Gabe Albornoz: establishing a Montgomery Sports Hall of Fame.
“I think the SoccerPlex is (now) a destination,” Heffelfinger said. “I think there were a lot of people, including myself, who had never been to Germantown before the SoccerPlex, so it really introduced Germantown and the surrounding areas to people who live in different parts of the county and the state.”
Taking over her role at the Maryland Soccer Foundation will be Matt Libber, a known name in travel soccer circles. Libber arrives after spending 18 years with Elite Tournaments, where he served as vice president of business operations, overseeing more than 60 events in 16 states.
The short turnaround has not diminished Libber’s excitement at being a part of the foundation that is in charge of the venue, which includes a 4,000-seat stadium. While he is learning his new job duties, Libber admits that he still calls Heffelfinger for advice on how to keep it running intact.
“We still bounce ideas off each other, and she is retired but she is still very active,” Libber said. “This is her baby; she has had 20 years here, so she wants to make sure everything is running well and still cares about the place.”
Libber arrived following the announcement by Major League Soccer club D.C. United will not to use the SoccerPlex to host their U.S. Open Cup games this year. The team used the venue to host their tournament games, which normally involve playing lower-division teams.
Despite the loss of D.C. United, the Washington Spirit (the Metropolitan region’s pro women’s soccer team and the stadium’s main tenant), will continue to have the majority of its home schedule played in Germantown.
Moving forward, Libber said long-term goals for the complex include improving communication to guests and bringing in more technology. Improvements like improved drainage on the field, lighting on more fields, facility-wide Wi-Fi access and video streaming are some of the ideas for the future of the 20-year old complex.
While soccer will be its primary sport, it will be important to include additional content, such as non-traditional sports like rugby, within the venue to make sure to maximize its potential and continue building relationships with different communities in and out of Germantown, as Heffelfinger did before him, Libber said.
“She had 20 years of leadership running this place and kept it in peak performance,” Libber said. “ … A lot of credit needs to go to her, and I hope that I can maintain that standard for her and make that legacy continue for the future.”