Brits to get their kicks in Joppa home

20-acre complex will mine talent for Crystal Palace club

Soccer

July 04, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

Harford County is about to experience a friendly invasion by the British.

By next spring, the Crystal Palace Football Club, a 101-year-old professional franchise based in southern London, officially will have put down international stakes for the first time, in search of up-and-coming soccer talent to infuse the parent club across the pond.

Once Crystal Palace USA has settled into its new home - a planned training complex to be built on about 20 acres in Joppa - the visions of two former Towson University soccer players and a Bel Air veterinarian with a passion for the game will have been realized.

Crystal Palace already is making its presence known in the States. On July 15, the parent club from England will play an American professional development team in an exhibition at the U.S. Naval Academy. When its developmental academy is launched in full, Crystal Palace USA will be using at least four fields on which to train about 180 players who constitute teams ranging from under-9 to under-18.

The idea, said Jim Cherneski, the new sporting director for Crystal Palace USA, is to make the parent club stronger by mining an area that has drawn notice for some time in Europe.

Cherneski said Crystal Palace, which competes at a level just below the world-famous Manchester United, pays its London-based players an average of about $700,000 per year in U.S. dollars.

"This is a real opportunity for young players in America. It's unfolding as we speak," said Cherneski, a 1996 Towson graduate who played in England briefly as a teenage amateur and also for the Baltimore Bays. "Crystal Palace sees North America as a place where they can find a player for them. This is like landing a minor league team to feed into them."

Why Harford County? Cherneski said English club officials like the moderate climate in Maryland and the amount of promising talent available in a huge recruiting area, primarily spanning Philadelphia to Washington. Harford County falls in the middle.

While Crystal Palace USA waits to settle down, it is looking for temporary training ground, and might land for a while at Homewood Field on the Johns Hopkins campus, Cherneski said.

Construction on the new facility should begin shortly after a tract of private land is acquired, possibly in the next few weeks. The Avey-Medd Group, a land developer and builder of custom homes and communities based in Phoenix, Ariz., will handle the bulk of the financing and construction.

Peter Medd, a native of Frederick, is a co-partner of the Avey-Medd Group and the vice president of Crystal Palace USA. Medd, who also played at Towson University in the late 1990s, tore up both knees after becoming a first-round draft pick of the Blast, before getting into the real estate business.

Medd estimates the total cost of the complex at between $7 million and $8 million. His project manager, Dr. Jeffrey Hess, is a Bel Air veterinarian with a long involvement in soccer. Hess is the CEO of Greater Harford Soccer Park Inc., a nonprofit project of his for more than a decade. Hess said he has been trying since 1993 to find the available space and financing to get a soccer complex built in the county.

"Finding a site that zoning would accept has been the biggest obstacle of the permit process," Hess said. "I've worked with three different county executives on this. We won't get finalization on this until the land is purchased, and that's about to happen."

"We're looking to learn more about the project, but the county executive is thrilled," said Aaron Tomarchio, the chief of staff under County Executive David Craig, a former soccer coach. "This adds to our profile as a county. I think it's a great economic development boost to the county. We may be on the verge of having a homegrown Cal Ripken of soccer."

Medd added that, while the pending deal is certainly about business, the idea of playing such an integral role in Crystal Palace USA stokes the soccer fan and the ex-player in him.

"Jeff Hess spearheaded this, and we are certainly committed to making this happen," Medd said. "Anytime you can buy a good piece of land, you're making a good investment. But this is like the Orioles setting up shop in Venezuela. It's a testament to where American soccer is in a global perspective. It's emotional. We're excited to be part of such an innovative thing, excited to see where it leads."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.