Editor’s Note: This has been translated from its original form on ESPN Deportes as part of their ‘Futbol in America’ series.
MIAMI, Florida — One can’t help but notice the wonderful aromas that emanate from neighborhoods in Miami as a casual stroll through the streets of this cosmopolitan city invites you to stop and sip its flavorful coffees and sample its delectable cuisine. Wander a little further and one comes across soccer pitches, teeming with a wannabe Lionel Messi or an aspiring Cristiano Ronaldo.
South Florida is a cultural rainbow with a collective passion for futbol. And now after a few years of false starts, a professional soccer team will make its triumphant return to the city as football icon David Beckham seeks to galvanize an ardent following with Miami’s 2020 MLS team.
“Finally, we can say mission accomplished after four years. On several occasions, we have experienced frustration; sometimes, I have thought this wasn’t going to happen,” said Beckham recently at the formal announcement of the MLS team. “Some people told me ‘Why don’t you just forget about it? Why don’t you go to a city in which a MLS side could flourish easily?'”
Beckham insisted it wasn’t an easy path.
“For me, it was always going to be Miami, always Miami, and I am such a persistent person, therefore I was going to make this happen,” he said, brimming with enthusiasm. “After all those moments of doubt, we are now announcing the team’s arrival, and we will be the official owners of a soccer club in Miami.”
According to U.S. Census data, the Miami-Dade area is home to 1.8 million Hispanics who make up two-thirds of the county’s population, the largest Latino community in Florida. Seizing on this, fans were delighted this past summer with the staging of El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, only the second time that the world’s most storied rivalry has been hosted outside Spain.
“I believe that staging these matches in the city is quite positive. Having Barcelona or Real Madrid here is great for the sport. That kind of event is something outstanding for kids to see,” said David Vega, goalkeeper for NASL side Miami FC.
The learning process for Miami natives in bringing back a pro soccer team to the city has been slow but steady, ambitious but cautious at the same time.
“I thought this wasn’t going to happen. I met with David [Beckham] to say goodbye to him but we looked each other in the eye and we said to each other: ‘This must go on.’ And so, here we are. I started to believe in this idea back in 2011,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, one of the Miami MLS franchise co-owners. The construction of a soccer-specific stadium in the northeast Overtown section will be financed with private funds and will create new jobs.
A soccer field of dreams: “Welcome to Miami”
Over the past decade, South Florida has basked in the growth of futbol as burgeoning soccer academies dot the region.
“We started to teach kids since they are very young. My job is to talk with local clubs and show them what soccer is from a very early age, to bring them the opportunity to watch professional soccer so we can create fans who will stick with the sport since they are five or six years old,” said Gonzalo De Mujica, a coach and promoter of the Miami FC youth camp. De Mujica was born in the U.S. to Argentine parents and played professionally with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.
The Miami FC “farm team” has also experienced that process many talk about: the unmistakable effects of purchase power growth among Hispanics in Miami, which is also felt in the stands.
“Our attendance numbers have grown substantially. During our first year, we averaged 2,000 per game; last year our average was 6,000 per game,” De Mujica explained. Miami FC play home games at sprawling Florida International Universtiy stadium and the coach is quite bullish on the continued growth of soccer.
“Soccer will end up being the number one sport in the United States. I’d say that during the past five years, MLS and NASL have grown exponentially. We are all taking that extra step,” said De Mujica. “I do believe that Beckham’s arrival will also help us because he will cause local magazines, newspapers and television to talk soccer often. All we want is for soccer to grow in this country.”
“A lot of people used to say to me that Miami was a difficult city for a soccer franchise. I don’t believe that’s the case because I honestly believe soccer is a global sport, and that is why it makes perfect sense to bring it to Miami. To be able to enjoy the support we’ve had over the past four years has made a huge difference,” said Beckham, the Real Madrid, Manchester United, PSG, Milan, LA Galaxy and England National Team legend.
Ultimately, Miami is in good hands.