Soccer moms into soccer fans? Dynamos move: Could second time be the charm for a pro soccer team in Columbia?

September 16, 1997

REMEMBER THE Maryland Bays? The American Professional Soccer League team that played at Columbia's Cedar Lane Park ultimately failed at the gate, but it succeeded big on the field.

Well, professional soccer is likely to return to Columbia, which should give the populace reason to celebrate. The owner of the Carolina Dynamo plans to link up with local investors and move his team to Maryland's largest non-city.

The Dynamo is no slouch. It has a 19-10 record going into the second round of playoffs in the A-League, soccer's top minor league, just below Major League Soccer. Owner Neil Macpherson confirmed to The Sun's Lowell Sunderland that he is negotiating a deal that would move the team here from North Carolina.

Columbia, though, would share the team with the rest of Maryland. Thus, it would be something like the Maryland Chesapeakes rather than, say, the Columbia Covenants or Lakers or even the Bikepaths. This would add to area pro teams: D.C. United and indoor soccer's Baltimore Spirit and Washington Warthogs. The club likely would play home games its first two seasons at the University of Maryland Baltimore County while a stadium seating at least 5,000 spectators is built in Columbia. We would applaud a private effort to bring this to fruition.

The new team would have a tough act to follow. The Bays won the APSL championship in 1990. But the heroics did not translate into a consistently strong box office, as home games averaged only 1,600 fans.

A. J. Ali, a businessman heading a local group of investors seeking interest in the team, is confident that conditions are prime for soccer's return. He knows that Howard County is a citadel of youth soccer leagues and that the sport's popularity is soaring.

The question will be whether interest in youth soccer will carry over into strong backing for a professional team. There are reasons to hope it does. Young children who play for kicks would get a close look at some of the better practitioners of the sport. Sports-loving families would have another recreation option, assumedly reasonably priced.

We cheer on investors, hoping they put together a game plan that is worthy of vigorous community and corporate support.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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