A-League plans moved back a year League requirements force delay on Columbia group

October 31, 1997|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Columbia-based investors, who twice in recent weeks have said an A-League pro soccer team would be playing in the Baltimore area next season, have delayed their plans by a year.

Instead of next spring, said A.J. Ali, spokesman for the investors, a local team in pro soccer's top minor league will begin play in 1999, probably in Howard County.

"We missed our window of opportunity for going ahead with a team for next year," Ali said. That meant satisfying the paperwork and investment requirements set by the league's management, as well as lining up a suitable field.

But the paperwork will be completed shortly, Ali promised, and with that accepted, his group plans to begin "an administrative year" early in 1998, naming a coach and key executives, lining up players and selling tickets for the following spring.

Ali also said his original group of six investors has grown to seven, with John Nasir, founder and president of the Columbia-based Pizza Boli franchise chain, now a backer, too. Others include two auto dealers, a high school coach and developer, a lawyer and an advertising-agency owner.

The original group thought it was buying half interest in the Carolina Dynamo, the A-League's playoff runner-up this season. But after weeks of waffling, the Dynamo's owner opted to pull his team out of the league for a year, but not sell or move it. The league agreed to award the Baltimore-area group a new franchise, assuming it met various start-up conditions.

Ali also said that, "Wherever we wind up playing in 1999, I don't see us there for more than three or four years." In its initial announcement, however, the group said it would play at UMBC Stadium for two years and then build its own stadium, possibly in Cooksville, in western Howard County.

With the delay, Ali said, "We have a number of options," one of which could be a refurbished and expanded facility at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia that the Maryland Bays, of the defunct American Professional Soccer League, used for a couple of seasons in the early 1990s, one of them a national-championship year.

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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