By Ian Jett
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
A new professional soccer team is moving to Baltimore with hopes of playing at a venue in the downtown area in 2017, one of the team’s co-owners said in an interview this week.
The Kings will be an independent team – meaning they will not be associated with an organized league like Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League or the United Soccer Leauge, the owner said.
Instead, the Baltimore team will play other independent soccer clubs from the Mid-Atlantic region and possibly the Midwest.
David “Josh” Marrero Danza, who is part of an ownership group called The Baltimore Pro Soccer, LLC, said the company’s investers have been together for about two years, adding that “our core group always had a project in mind – to create a professional soccer team in Baltimore.”
Danza, a former graduate student and soccer player at Towson University, said he and the ownership group may join an organized league at some point in the future, but he said he cannot reveal which league at this time.
“I can’t state the league just yet,” he said. “We’re not 100 percent committed to it yet.”
The official announcement was made Saturday on Twitter and marks the first time since 2010 that the city will have a professional outdoor soccer team. Crystal Palace Baltimore played in the United Soccer Leagues’ second division until it disbanded in 2010.
Danza said the Kings have not yet identified a venue for its home matches, but he hopes it will be in the downtown area.
“We want it to be a place where it suits both players and fans,” he said. “There is a great chance of it being in downtown Baltimore.” He said the team will not start looking for a coach and players until at least next year.
Danza said the Kings will hold several meet and greets in the future to reach out to the community. The team will eventually seek feedback from the city, possibly on such things as the team logo and colors, Danza said.
“We wanted something that represented Baltimore,” Danza said. “Baltimore’s true colors are blue because of the many blue collar workers that live here.”
The city is currently home to an amateur soccer club called the Baltimore Bohs, which began play here in 2012 and compete in the USL’s Premier Development League, the top development league for amateur players in North America. The Bohs – which is short for Bohemians – play at Bonvegna Field on Boston Street in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood.
Dan Baldwin, a co-founder of the Bohs’ supporters group, said that if soccer clubs like the Kings and Bohs are successful in drawing in fans, it could entice the MLS to consider bringing a Division I soccer team to Baltimore.
“The success of this team is crucial,” he said. “Support is growing for a professional team in Baltimore and fans always wondered why Baltimore has been second class.”
Joe Tirabassi, the director of marketing and media relations for the Bohs, said the formation of the professional Kings team is a good thing for the city of Baltimore and the area.
“Baltimore and Maryland as a whole has always been a hotbed for soccer,” Tirabassi said. “The formation of teams like the Bohs and this new club are proof that it’s as strong as ever.”
Danza said the Kings’ ownership group thinks the best way to become successful is to be conservative and stay afloat for a certain period of time before committing to an organized league. He said the Kings are trying to avoid the fate of other soccer clubs that failed in Baltimore.
“A lot of people won’t like hearing this, but it’s a process and we’re going to take a personal and conservative approach to it,” Danza said. “We’re going to try to connect with soccer fans in Baltimore.”
In addition to the Kings, Danza said, Baltimore Pro Soccer will operate three other soccer teams in the area, although they will be amateur clubs. They include a U-23 team, a recreational team called Mobtown FC, and a youth club for younger players.
The U-23 team will be made up of collegiate players who want to work on their soccer skills while they are home for the summer. The company’s website said the U-23 club is for elite amateur players with “professional aspirations.” The players will not be paid so that they can maintain their NCAA eligibility and can return to their college soccer teams in the fall.
Danza said he and the other owners of Baltimore Pro Soccer do not intend for their company’s U-23 team to compete with the Boh’s for Baltimore’s soccer fan base. He said he believes that soccer is popular enough for Baltimore to support two high-level amateur teams.
“The Baltimore Bohemians are already in existence,” Danza said. “We don’t want to draw lines in the sand. We want to exist at the same time.”
Danza also said the Bohs have great leadership, ownership and coaching. He said the Bohs should have the first opportunity to be affiliated with a USL team.
Baldwin said he believes the initial fan reception among Bohs’ supporters will be divided over which amateur team to follow. He said the two teams will be competing for the same players and fans.
“I think it will be a mixed bag,” he said. “Some will be excited and jump on board and others will be hesitant.”
The Kings will hold tryouts for the U-23 team in late January and will narrow their head coaching candidates in the next two months. The company will start looking for a coach and players for the Kings later that year, Danza said.
“We’re looking at several candidates right now,” Danza said. “But we’re open to new candidates as well and plan to narrow it down in the next two months.”