Group interested in bringing USL expansion team to Baltimore, league officials say

Would an outdoor soccer team in a league with Division 2 status survive in Baltimore?

A group of investors has applied to start a Baltimore-based expansion team in the United Soccer League, league officials said Monday.

The application to join the second-tier professional league is "very strong," according to the officials, who told The Baltimore Sun that the potential owners are working with the USL to evaluate stadium options in the area.

If accepted, Baltimore could join the league as early as next year or 2019, the officials said. The expansion Nashville SC team was founded in 2016 and is expected to join the USL as its 31st team in 2018.

The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast already have a strong presence in the league, with teams based in Bethlehem, Pa.; Cincinnati; Harrisburg, Pa.; New York; Pittsburgh; Richmond, Va.; and Rochester, N.Y. Major League Soccer's D.C. United also has applied to own and operate a USL team, starting next year, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the Baltimore application.

The USL, which in January was granted Division 2 status from the United Soccer Soccer Federation, putting it on par with the North American Soccer League and behind only MLS, considers three guiding principles in its expansion strategy: a local ownership group, a young and diverse population and plans for a soccer-specific stadium to showcase the sport. League officials touted Baltimore's possible fan base, proximity to local universities and existing USL teams, and its corporate base.

The Blast, the area's most visible pro soccer team, draws about 5,000 fans per game in Major Arena Soccer League play. The Bohemians competed in the fourth-tier USL Premier Development League from 2012 until January, when they announced that the team "will be on hiatus until further notice. We are taking this time off to refocus our efforts on bringing a legitimate professional franchise to this great city."

Baltimore has flirted with professional outdoor teams in recent years, emerging as a relocation possibility when D.C. United was seeking a new stadium until the club agreed to remain in Washington. Last year, the Post reported on the possibility of the USL's since-relegated Wilmington Hammerheads moving to Baltimore and beginning play under a new name at Towson University in 2018.

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

The Baltimore Sun's Glenn Graham contributed to this article.

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