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Mutual interest between Baltimore, USL in bringing pro outdoor soccer teams to city; 10,000-seat stadium potential home

The future of soccer in Baltimore could include a 10,000-seat stadium and United Soccer League men’s and women’s professional teams.

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Mayor Brandon Scott requested the Maryland Stadium Authority conduct a study to “determine the feasibility of a potential soccer facility,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement Thursday. The study, which was approved by the stadium authority’s board Tuesday, is just the first step in what would likely be a yearslong process to bring the venue and teams to Charm City. Port Covington is one potential site.

“Baltimore has a deep, proud soccer community that the USL believes would fully embrace a professional club with teams in USL Championship, USL Super League, and USL Academy,” USL Chief Operating Officer and Chief Real Estate Officer Justin Papadakis said in a statement Thursday.

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The USL Championship is a men’s league which began play in 2011, while the USL Super League is a women’s league which will begin competition next year. Each is considered to be in the second-tier of pro soccer in America, below Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League, respectively.

Right to Dream, a soccer academy and nonprofit organization that is based in Ghana and develops young, talented soccer players, would be the primary tenant of a potential stadium in Baltimore and would operate the teams. MSA Vice President Al Tyler described the would-be Baltimore academy as “similar to an IMG Academy up north,” comparing it with the boarding school in Bradenton, Florida, for grades 6-12 known for producing college and pro baseball, basketball, football, soccer and tennis players.

The City of Baltimore and Right To Dream’s vision for a training academy would include privately funded residential and academic buildings for youth student-athletes and a publicly funded stadium owned and operated by the MSA, Tyler said.

Papadakis said the USL has been working with Right to Dream for the past few years as the nonprofit looks to expand into the U.S. and said “Right to Dream’s integration of education, sport and character development through fully funded scholarships to children is truly unique and incredibly successful.”

“After a national search, USL and Right to Dream identified Baltimore as the community with the most alignment with their mission, so we have started to engage local stakeholders, including the Maryland Stadium Authority, in an exploratory process,” he said in a statement.

Mayor Brandon Scott requested the Maryland Stadium Authority conduct a study to “determine the feasibility of a potential soccer facility,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement Thursday. The study, which was approved by the stadium authority’s board Tuesday, is just the first step in what would likely be a yearslong process to bring the venue and teams to Charm City. Port Covington is one potential site.

The USL Championship is currently a 27-team league, but the size of the league fluctuates, as it grew from as few as 11 teams a decade ago to 36 teams in 2019. Though not as popular as MLS, the USL’s top teams average about 10,000 in attendance and 10 men’s USL games will be televised on ESPN2 this season.

The USL Super League is expected to kick off in August 2023 and aims to have 12 teams in its first season.

In a statement, the Mayor’s Office pointed out Baltimore’s “deep history with the beautiful game,” its “massively successful indoor soccer team” — the Baltimore Blast — as well as a “thriving grassroots soccer ecosystem.”

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“Bringing Men’s and Women’s USL Championship teams allows us to leverage the incredible appetite for the game here in Baltimore,” the statement read. “This is an excellent opportunity to serve our soccer fan base, create jobs for residents, improve our communities, and attract fans to enjoy the best of what Baltimore offers. We are excited to see the study’s results to fully understand and showcase the benefits such a project would produce for Baltimore and our residents.”

The exact location, like much else, remains unknown until the completion of the study. Port Covington is a potential site, though.

“We look forward to the results of this study and would consider including a stadium if it contributed to our goal of making Port Covington a place that welcomes and benefits all of Baltimore,” a Port Covington spokesperson said.

The potential stadium would be multi-purpose and the study will analyze the economic benefits that a venue would provide, both related to soccer and non-soccer events. The study will cost $62,000, with the MSA paying one-third ($20,667) and the City of Baltimore and private funds financing the rest.

It’s just the latest in a string of soccer-related happenings in Baltimore.

In May, the stadium authority approved a study to analyze potential sites for an MLS Next Pro team, which would be a minor league team for D.C. United. MLS Next Pro is considered to be in the third-tier of pro soccer in the U.S.

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Local leadership was also optimistic about Baltimore being selected as a host city for the 2026 men’s FIFA World Cup, but the bid ultimately fell short. Though it will not be one of the 16 hosts in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Baltimore will likely play some smaller role in the massive international event. Perhaps one or more teams will train in Baltimore, for example.

On July 16, M&T Bank Stadium will host an exhibition between two powerful international soccer brands, Arsenal and Everton.

The Baltimore area is already home to Christos FC — an amateur team in the USL League Two — as well as the Blast, the city’s longtime indoor pro soccer team which competes in the Major Arena Soccer League and at Towson University’s SECU Arena, which has a capacity of 3,800 for Blast games.


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