The North American Soccer League and a Northern Virginia group are in advanced talks about placing an expansion club in Loudoun County, with 2014 as a preliminary target date.
The NASL is on the second tier of the U.S. pro system, one level below MLS.
The club would play at a multi-use development five miles north of Washington Dulles International Airport and share a small stadium with a proposed minor league baseball team, the Loudoun Hounds.
“They have been very impressive,” NASL Commissioner David Downs said Thursday. “We’re well along in the process.”
Bob Farren, president and chief executive of Virginia Investment Partnership, met with the NASL’s board of governors this week in New York and provided financial and stadium updates. Mark Simpson, a former D.C. United goalkeeper and assistant coach, is overseeing VIP’s soccer operations.
“We’re still in negotiations with the developer,” Simpson said. “We hope to sort it out shortly.”
VIP owns the Hounds, whose initial plans to begin play this year in the independent Atlantic League (equivalent to Class AA or AAA) were stalled by stadium delays. The developer, Kincora, has yet to break ground on a 424-acre complex at the intersection of routes 28 and 7 in Sterling.
The Loudoun County’s board of supervisors approved the $2 billion project two years ago. The development would feature two hotels, housing, shopping and an arts center.
The stadium would have 5,500 permanent seats and space for 4,500 additional spectators in standing room areas. For soccer, temporary bleachers for 1,500 would bring total capacity to 11,500.
The field would be equipped with high-grade artificial turf and, with only small areas of dirt around the bases and a hydraulic pitching mound, baseball and soccer would co-exist during overlapping seasons.
The NASL has eight teams this season: Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio, Minnesota, Edmonton and Puerto Rico.
On Thursday, the league announced the New York Cosmos would begin play in 2013. A franchise in Ottawa plans to start in 2014. Several other cities, including Detroit and San Diego, have expressed interest in an expansion team.
From a business strategy standpoint, the NASL has avoided entering MLS markets. But New York and Washington “are unique cases,” Downs said, citing New York’s population and Loudoun County’s enormous growth, demographics and considerable distance from D.C.
MLS’s New York Red Bulls play in Harrison, N.J., adjacent to Newark. The Cosmos’ home venue hasn’t been determined.
D.C. United, a charter member of MLS and a tenant at RFK Stadium since 1996, is seeking a new facility in the District.
While a team, albeit from a lower level, might attract some suburban fans reluctant to travel into the city for United matches, an NASL squad could serve as a convenient destination for United to loan young players.
“We want them to be ready to commit sooner rather than later,” Downs said of the Virginia group’s proposal. “The pressure is on them to move faster” in order to secure an expansion slot.