(USL) (USL)

A group of Baltimore investors has submitted an application to launch an expansion team in the United Soccer League, sources close to the blossoming second-tier circuit said Monday.

The identity of the individuals was not immediately known but their proposal to field a team as early as 2018 was described by one source as “strong.”

Baltimore is high on the league’s list for possible expansion. The group is apparently looking to build a stadium from scratch and, if necessary, play in an existing facility on a temporary basis.

Last year, the Wilmington Hammerheads explored the possibility of moving to Towson University‘s football-lacrosse stadium. Instead, they remained in the North Carolina coastal town as an amateur team in the fourth-division Premier Development League while their owners eyed investing in an established USL club. They are not actively pursuing the Baltimore option.

Reached at their headquarters in Tampa, league officials did not want to comment.

This winter, the U.S. Soccer Federation sanctioned the USL as a second-flight league, one step below MLS. The North American Soccer League retained second-division status.

While the 10-team NASL struggles to survive, the USL has thrived in medium and large markets while forging a deeper relationship with MLS. This year, the USL will have 30 teams, 10 of which are owned by MLS organizations. Baltimore would be an independent club.

D.C. United also has submitted an application to own and operate a USL team, starting next year, with Northern Virginia as the most likely location.

Adding clubs in the D.C. and Baltimore areas would help the USL build a multi-team, regional rivalry, along with the Richmond Kickers, Harrisburg City Islanders and Bethlehem Steel.

In selecting expansion bids, the USL emphasizes local ownership group; a millennial and diverse population; and plans for a soccer-specific stadium to properly showcase the sport. The league is bullish on Baltimore’s potential fan base, which includes several universities, and the corporate base, featuring Under Armour.

Charm City has a rich indoor soccer history — the Blast began in 1980, folded in 1992 and resurfaced the same year — but hasn’t had a high-level outdoor team since the early 1970s. The amateur Baltimore Bohemians, who joined the PDL in 2011, announced last month that they’re going on hiatus.

Perhaps hinting at USL investment, the team said in its statement that “we are taking this time off to refocus our efforts on bringing a legitimate professional franchise to this great city.”