Posted Sept. 7, 2017
MIAMI — It’s an exciting time for soccer fans in South Florida.
David Beckham is now officially on the brink of finally being awarded an MLS expansion franchise for Miami, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced in early August that if the World Cup returns to the U.S., Miami wants to be involved.
MLS TEAM LONG TIME COMING
Major League Soccer owners voted in early August to move into final stages with the soccer icon toward closing the deal on his long-awaited team, one that may begin play in a new Miami stadium in 2020. Beckham has been trying to bring a team to Miami for more than four years through his right to pay $25 million for an expansion franchise.
“We’re not announcing MLS Miami today,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said on Aug. 2. “But I am confident that we’ll be able to do that sometime, perhaps by the end of the summer. We do have some things that we need to work through.”
The vote in Chicago – site of owners meetings that preceded the MLS All-Star Game – allows Garber and a committee of other league owners to proceed on the final things that need to be done before the franchise can be officially awarded. Garber indicated that the process could be wrapped up in as little as a couple weeks.
“We’re getting really, really, really close,” Garber said.
“Having a professional soccer team in our area would be a game changer for the kids,” said Asaf Lubezky, owner and director of Asaf Soccer and Sports Academy in West Palm Beach. “Going to professional games is part of the culture overseas and having a pro team in our area will help tie their day-to-day soccer experiences with the real thing.”
Having an MLS soccer team in our area would also be inspirational to local youth, said Lubezky, who also serves as director of coaching & player development for the Boynton Beach Knights of the South Florida United Youth Soccer Association.
“The atmosphere of pro games inspires players and this will give the youth players something very tangible to aim for as they grow and develop,” Lubezky said.
Beckham and one of his partners – Todd Boehly, who Garber said will serve as the majority owner of the Miami club – met with owners for a portion of the Aug. 2 meeting, discussing both his soccer past and soccer future. His pitch, Garber said, was passionate and detailed everything from his plans for a stadium to why he came to play in the U.S. in the first place.
“It’s the first time he met with our owners and talked about what his vision is,” Garber said.
Garber also pointed to the success of two exhibitions in Miami held in late July – including a matchup between Real Madrid and Barcelona – as proof that the South Florida market is ready for MLS again. “El Clásico” drew more than 66,000 fans to the match, and nearly another 40,000 bought tickets for the night before just to watch the sides practice.
“It’s passionate about the game,” Garber said of the Miami market. “David has been spending a great deal of time … working hard with his partner Simon Fuller to try to finalize this deal. They’ve committed an enormous amount of time and resources and everything really is in place for us to do what we need to do.”
There are still some hurdles to clear, including a legal challenge surrounding a $9 million land purchase of a county plot that Beckham’s group wants to use for its 25,000-seat planned stadium.
County resident Bruce Matheson sued last month to stop the county’s land sale to the Beckham group, saying state law was violated by the lack of a bidding process.
Matheson owns property about a quarter-mile away from the plot in question, and that he will be “substantially and adversely affected” by what he contends will be increased traffic, congestion, noise and a decline in property values if the stadium is built. He also said he would purchase the land the Beckham group is buying for the same $9 million price.
County officials are confident that the deal struck with Beckham is legal, and will hold up if taken to court.
“We believe the time is right, finally, for Miami to become a great Major League Soccer city,” Garber said.
WORLD CUP BID
Mayor Gimenez agrees. He said on Aug. 1, that Miami-Dade County will submit a bid by September to host games in the 2026 World Cup.
The county will make its pitch to the United Bid Committee, the group formed by the national delegations of Canada, Mexico and the U.S., to pursue bringing a men’s World Cup to North America for the first time since 1994.
“We are hopeful,” Gimenez said. “We anticipate that we would make the first cut. I think Miami is in a very strong position to make the first cut and actually to make the final cut of either eight or 10 American cities to host World Cup games in 2026.”
Part of the UBC’s 10-person board is former University of Miami president Donna Shalala. The group has been contacting more than 40 cities in recent weeks, inviting them to apply.
“Soccer’s never had more momentum here in Miami, or around the United States,” Gimenez said. “This is the sport of the future, it’s the world’s sport and Americans have started to really appreciate it and watch it and be enthusiastic about it.”
Lubezky agrees. “Soccer has become the No. 1 sport in our area,” he said. “We see the enthusiasm with the increased number of kids playing the sport. All the parks are filled with kids enjoying soccer and trying to be the next Messi, Rondalo or Pulisic.”
The UBC is proposing that 60 matches in that 2026 tournament be played in the U.S., with Mexico and Canada each playing host to 10 early matches. FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing body, is expected to decide the 2026 site by May 2020.
Pictured above: Real Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic scores a goal during the first half of “El Clásico Miami” Barcelona-Real Madrid match on July 29, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. The match drew more than 66,000 fans, which, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, points to the passion for soccer in South Florida. Photo by David Santiago/el Nuevo Herald