Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber expressed frustration over D.C. United's stadium stalemate Thursday in his annual state-of-the-league address, furthering speculation that the club might soon be on the move.
"We have to aggressively figure a solution out, and that solution needs to be figured out soon," Garber said. "I am concerned about where this team will be in 2012."
United plays in 50-year-old RFK Stadium, which is too big for the club and is considered unfit as a soccer venue. General manager Kevin Payne has not been shy in publicly calling for a new stadium, but the debt-mired city of Washington has not budged.
As United and the city sit in deadlock, Baltimore has presented itself as an option for the club that has been one of the league's most successful since its inception in 1996.
In October 2009, then-Mayor Sheila Dixon commissioned a study to explore the feasibility of building a stadium as part of the planned Westport development in southwest Baltimore. The study, which was issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority and completed by Crossroads Consulting services, came back in December.
In the study, the authors estimate that a soccer-specific stadium in Baltimore could add between 780 and 940 jobs and up to $6.4 million in annual state and local tax revenues. The authors conclude that the league's sound business model, coupled with a soccer-specific stadium, could "mitigate" the limited corporate interest in a soccer team in Baltimore.
Last week, MLS circulated a survey in Baltimore to gauge interest in the possibility of a professional team relocating here. Kevin Healey, the general manager of the Blast of the Major Indoor Soccer League, said he was optimistic after receiving the survey.
"I wasn't surprised that Baltimore got a survey," Healey said. "I was surprised that it just came out and I didn't hear anything about it before that."
As part of the survey, the league presented five teams and asked which would be most desirable for fans. Those clubs were the Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls, the Philadelphia Union and United.
"The information gathered will be used internally at MLS and shared with D.C. United as a part of their due diligence in determining a stadium solution that best serves the long-term viability of the club," MLS spokesman Sean Dennison said in an email. "Major League Soccer has commissioned a study to determine the viability of Baltimore as an MLS market. D.C. United is an active participant in this process."
Although there is no timetable for United's move, Garber's comments Thursday along with last week's survey suggest that the league has grown tired of waiting.
"We need a solution, and I've been pushing Kevin [Payne] and [owner] Will Chang to try to find that solution," Garber said. "If that means, if they can't get a new and improved lease in D.C., and they've got to move to another facility in the region, I will be supportive of that, and in fact, will help them do that."
The Washington Post reported late last week that, according to people close to the situation, who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly, United has had preliminary talks with the University of Maryland about playing at Byrd Stadium until a new stadium is built in the Washington or Baltimore area.
A source told the Post that with the university's athletic department facing a sizable budget deficit, Maryland would be open to having United as a tenant.