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Harford's Cedar Lane Park loses regional soccer championship

Harford County lost its chance to host the U.S. Youth Soccer regional championships because the fields at Cedar Lane Park and Carsins Run were not up to par, according to the state's youth soccer association.

The East Coast championships (Region 1), which took place in July, were projected to bring in $15 million to $18 million annually for the county. They will be held in Kingston, R.I., in 2013 and 2014.

"The fields were not in condition that our national championship series need [them] to be in," Marie Langford, executive director for the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association, said Thursday.

"At this point, we did not think it would be completed in time for the event, so we had to look, and actually, it was a regional decision," she said.

The championships had promised to be an economic boon when county officials announced plans to expand amenities at Cedar Lane in January.

Bids are given out in two-year increments for Region 1 championships, which involves 14 state associations.

Langford said the bid process that would have given the championships to Harford started about a year prior, in 2011.

"The fields have to be in pristine condition," she said. "There were things that needed to be done, some irrigation, to get the fields into the right condition. It looked like that was not going to be done in the time frame, and, additionally, there was supposed to be some rest time [for the fields] prior to the event time."

Langford said the state association would "certainly" be willing to work with Harford officials in the future.

"We certainly want to keep our options open," she said. "We haven't shut any doors whatsoever."

County officials and local sports leaders kicked off a fundraising campaign in January to build an event center at Cedar Lane Park and mentioned the soccer championship specifically as a big part of the county's plans for Cedar Lane.

"The economic impact of that one event will probably double what we do here," John McHugh, the park's executive director, said at that kick-off, explaining Cedar Lane is competing with other facilities for similar events.

On Thursday, McHugh said although he was "disappointed" Cedar Lane will not host the series, he is confident the economic impact will be just as much from all the other tournaments the park has been hosting.

"We host Region 1 games now, Youth Academy games," he said. "We still host a lot of higher-level events now."

He also thought the championships' requirements would not have been worth it for the county.

"That would have put a lot of burden on the county, to be honest with you," McHugh said, explaining it would have kept the park from being able to host other events.

"They wanted six months for us to rest our fields," he said. "Our definition of resting our fields and theirs was different. We couldn't survive and do that. The expectations weren't realistic for what we could do."

He noted the county will be investing $1 million this year for the kind of irrigation and field work that will help Cedar Lane potentially get the U.S. Youth Soccer games in the future.

Just being in the running for the championship helped a little bit, McHugh said.

"It brought more notoriety to the facility, that we almost got it," he said with a laugh.

Cedar Lane opened in 2008 and hosts local, regional and national sporting events, as well as sports leagues. Overall, the park had 282,580 visitors in 2011, McHugh said in an earlier interview.

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