City Planning More Soccer

Baltimore Wants A Similar Game In 2010, Eyes World Cup Matches

July 26, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

Before the roar of Friday's international soccer celebration began to fade at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore officials already were planning for a return match featuring European teams next summer.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said Saturday that aside from rush-hour traffic congestion, the match "was an example of our capacity to handle something like this."

An enthusiastic crowd announced at 71,203 arrived in the colors of Chelsea (blue) and AC Milan (red and black), replete with horns and high energy levels. In the wake of Chelsea's 2-1 win, the future of soccer in Baltimore perhaps has never looked brighter.

Dixon says she has hopes of one day putting a 7,000-seat soccer facility south of M&T Bank Stadium. Crystal Palace FC USA, a minor league soccer club that averages 1,200 fans for its matches at UMBC, wants to build a stadium and operate its soccer academy on accompanying fields in the city or in Baltimore County.

But organizers of the project said they have held only internal discussions and are not ready to present a formal proposal to the city.

Plans are moving ahead on other fronts, however. Ravens president Dick Cass called the Chelsea-AC Milan event "a great success" and said he has expressed interest in playing host to another international match at the stadium next summer after the 2010 World Cup matches in South Africa. The Ravens joined the city, the Blast indoor soccer team and others in bringing the event to the city.

"We have demonstrated with this event that we can host a world-class soccer event and sell the tickets," Cass said. "I hope we'll get an event like this again."

The first sellout of the World Football Challenge - the Rose Bowl in California drew 80,000 fans for a Tuesday match but seats more than 100,000 - presumably raised Baltimore's profile for the United States' bid to get either 2018 or 2022 World Cup matches.

Baltimore would likely be a preliminary or regional host if selected to be part of the U.S. bid for the World Cup and will submit its proposal by Wednesday. The committee will reduce a pool of 45 stadiums in 37 U.S. cities to 20 in August. A list of 10 to 14 finalists will be drawn in December.

Other stadiums in the running include Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; FedEx Field in Landover and RFK Stadium in Washington; Soldier Field in Chicago; Qwest Field in Seattle and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

All those cities have hosted or will host an international match this summer, as numerous European clubs prepare for their regular season in the United States. D.C. United of the MLS will face Real Madrid on Aug. 9 at FedEx Field.

Baltimore apparently made the most of its moment in the spotlight. A representative of the U.S. committee, on hand for Friday's contest, visited Dixon and spoke with Baltimore officials last week.

"This shows a major following for international soccer in our region," said Terry Hasseltine, director of Maryland's office of sports marketing. "I think we hit a home run with this event."

Success could be measured on a number of levels. Downtown hotels were crowded during the week, and restaurants and bars were bustling.

"It definitely helped the city and state," Dixon said. "A lot of businesses downtown that are really struggling in this economy got a little bonus."

Cass said the Ravens and Blast combined to sell more than 68,000 of the 71,000 tickets distributed. The rest were complimentary passes provided for the event. The popularity of soccer in the region was evident when most of the tickets were sold quickly.

"If we had another 30,000 lower-bowl seats, we could sell them, I think," Cass said. "There's a real hunger here for soccer. It's very popular in the Baltimore area. And I think most of our tickets were sold in the Baltimore area."

Mark Mettrick, a native of Manchester, England, who is entering his 10th season as Loyola College men's soccer coach, said he was "a little surprised, but very pleased" that the game drew more than 71,000 fans.

"There is a trickle-down effect," Mettrick said. "We've got a long way to go as a sport here, but I think this is another sign we're growing. There's a soccer culture here."

In a football- and baseball-crazed town, Dixon thinks soccer has become an alternative sport for young athletes. She regularly attends her children's soccer games and said she is receptive to the idea of building a soccer facility in the Camden Yards complex. "It could be a sports Mecca," she said. "I'd love to have [a new stadium]."

Peter Kirk, chairman of Opening Day Partners who has built a minor league baseball empire, said he is exploring the idea with the Crystal Palace team.

"They asked us to work with them to try to make this happen in the Baltimore area," Kirk said. "To this point, we haven't done very much, other than preliminary meetings."

Jim Cherneski, the founder, sporting director and co-manager of Crystal Palace, was encouraged by Friday's sellout.

"Hopefully, it will have a positive effect on what we're doing," he said. "Our biggest challenge is to convince the 70,000 that bought tickets that our organization is worth watching."

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.