English professional soccer is coming to Annapolis.
The Crystal Palace Football Club held a news conference at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium yesterday to officially launch Crystal Palace USA, a club designed to groom players for the primary team in London.
The local team, which will play its games at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, opens its United Soccer Leagues Second Division schedule April 20 in Charlotte, N.C., and will first play in Annapolis on May 4 against the Cleveland City Stars.
The roster will have international players and area standouts, such as Andrew Marshall (Centennial), one of the stars of Towson University's run into the NCAA tournament last fall. It will also have some members of the English team, such as Lewwis Spence.
"Obviously, the goal for any player is to go over [to England] and play at that level," Marshall said. "This is a great environment for me to challenge myself."
A $100 million operation with a century of history, Crystal Palace hopes initially to average 3,000 to 5,000 fans at games and build from there through aggressive marketing. Tickets will be priced from $8 to $12.
"We felt the facility fits perfectly with the product we're going to put on the field," said Crystal Palace vice president-general manager Pete Medd. "This will border on major league talent and a major league product. This could be a trend. I think we'll see more teams from Europe go in this direction."
The organization decided to make this step because it sees the United States as one of the fastest-growing soccer nations with a burgeoning supply of quality young players. The team's administrative offices and practice field will be in Harford County.
"There is a lot of talent in the Baltimore-Washington area," said Jim Cherneski, the club's sporting director. "We hope to develop it and make this club one of the most powerful in the U.S. There will be benefits on both sides of the water."
Negotiations are under way for a television contract with a regional network, but nothing has been finalized.
Also attending yesterday's announcement were Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk and Annapolis mayor Ellen Moyer.