Mania, UMBC reach home-game agreement 1st-year A-League team set to sign one-year deal

September 16, 1998|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Mania and UMBC officials tentatively agreed yesterday that the new pro soccer team will play its A-League home games next season at UMBC Stadium.

A contract formalizing the one-year arrangement, with an option for more, is expected to be ready for signing next week. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Although the Mania expects to open its initial season in May on the Catonsville college's synthetic turf, team and UMBC spokesmen expressed hope that a separate agreement can be reached on upgrading a new grass soccer field the school has just opened.

That field, carved out of a hillside just north of UMBC Stadium, needs expensive lights, about 4,000 more seats and rest rooms to meet A-League requirements.

But press facilities and a scoreboard are being installed this week at the new, 70- by 120-yard pitch, which satisfies international soccer criteria. Stadium locker rooms also serve the new field.

"It's in great shape," said Amani Dove, the Mania's vice president for operations.

"UMBC provides more of what we need than any place that we looked at. We think this area -- Baltimore, Baltimore County and Howard County -- is where our market is."

In two years, the team, backed by Columbia-area investors, wants to build a permanent stadium in the Columbia area, about seven miles south of UMBC via nearby I-95.

Team officials unexpectedly lost out politically earlier this year with their original idea of playing temporarily at Columbia's Cedar Lane Park.

With about 4,000 seats, the lighted UMBC Stadium, annual site of Maryland high school lacrosse and soccer playoffs, as well as this spring's NCAA women's lacrosse championships, is about 1,000 shy of the A-League's minimum.

And all of pro soccer prefers grass to synthetic turf as a playing surface.

"We're delighted to have the Mania on campus," said UMBC athletic director Charlie Brown, who added that the growing school also might consider another campus site for a more permanent stadium.

In principle, yesterday's agreement means Baltimore-area fans will be able to see second-division pro soccer, the area's highest level of the outdoor game since the Maryland Bays folded in 1991, a year after winning the old American Soccer League's national championship. At the time, the ASL was the top U.S. pro league.

The semipro Baltimore Bays of the D3 Pro League, the lowest minor league in American pro soccer's three-level structure, used the UMBC Stadium, as well, until it was sold last year to Ocean City-area backers.

The A-League, with franchises coast to coast, expects to operate with 32 teams next year.

The Mania will play mostly opponents in the central part of the East Coast until playoff time; the closest teams are in Pennsylvania (Hershey, Allentown and Pittsburgh) and Virginia (Richmond and Virginia Beach).

A-League teams have working agreements with the dozen Major League Soccer teams, although, unlike baseball, most players are not owned by MLS clubs.

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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