Soccer clubs representing about 20,000 Montgomery County youth players have agreed to resume matches at the financially troubled Maryland SoccerPlex on the condition that county officials mediate their dispute with the Maryland Soccer Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the Boyds facility.
In exchange for the county's help, the five clubs -- Maryland Soccer Inc., Damascus Soccer Club, Seneca Soccer Association, Potomac Soccer Association and Bethesda Soccer Club -- agreed Monday to drop their objection to a $300-per-game fee established by the foundation for the fall season.
"We were responding to the personal and professional requests of our County Council," said Douglas Schuessler, executive director of Maryland Soccer Inc., a 15,000-member club. Schuessler said that the council would "aggressively investigate the operation of the Maryland Soccer Foundation."
Both parties agreed to a Nov. 15 deadline to reach an agreement.
"It's a big win for our kids," said County Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), who helped negotiate the accord. "This gets our kids back on the SoccerPlex fields, but it doesn't guarantee kids playing in the spring,"
The clubs have been playing on less-costly county fields since the fall season began Sept. 10.
The dispute began in June when the 18-member board voted to remove eight club representatives from the panel. Board members apparently felt that having the chief users of the SoccerPlex seated on the panel was a conflict of interest. Those eight members were put on an advisory board.
Schuessler said soccer clubs should be involved in decision-making at the SoccerPlex.
"The notion that the soccer community should not be a voice for itself would be amusing if it wasn't damaging," he said.
Since opening in October 2000, the 19-field SoccerPlex has had financial problems and has been criticized by parents, council members and even County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) for poor business planning.
Money from corporate sponsors and soccer-community fundraising did not come through as expected, said Trish Heffelfinger, executive director of the Maryland Soccer Foundation.
She acknowledged that the $300 fee is nearly twice as much as the national average.
"There's no disagreement that the fees are too high," Silverman said. "It's just that they are as high as they are because there aren't any other revenues."
Ideas that will be considered during negotiations include a county subsidy and lease revisions to allow for more revenue-producing events, such as corporate retreats, at the facility.