FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Soccer fans in Miami have been making noise for years to get an MLS expansion team. On Saturday, their voices were heard in a town hall meeting with MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Garber, in town for the 2011 MLS Combine, spent an hour with about 60 members of the Miami Ultras, a Miami-based soccer supporter group, discussing the issues and possibilities of a future MLS team back in South Florida. The Miami Fusion played in MLS from 1998 through 2001.
“We want to be here,” Garber said, raising a round of applause from the crowd. “It’s inconceivable for a pro league not to be south of Washington, DC.”
However, Garber also reiterated the league’s current emphasis on having a second team in the New York City area. Ostensibly, this new Big Apple club would be the 20th team in MLS.
“In New York, we have a dire need to go out and capture a broader part of the market,” Garber said. “We have many interested ownership groups, with a wide variety of potential stadium plans. In Miami, we’re not sure. We’re still scratching our head about the market. And we’ve had no progress with a potential owner.”
Many of the Miami Ultras’ questions, then, revolved about what needs to be done to get a team in South Florida. Garber underlined the role the fans must play.
“When we hear about the Miami market, we hear about all these pockets of soccer fans,” he said. “You need to get everyone together. . . . We’re not going to lead the charge to bring a team here.”
Also in attendance was Aaron Davidson, the president of Traffic Sports USA, owners of the South Florida-based NASL club the Strikers (formerly Miami FC). At times, the Ultras directed their questions to Davidson.
Garber emphasized three points that would help most: getting the market excited for soccer, supporting the second division club that already exists, and supporting the Gold Cup matches to be played at FIU Stadium this summer.
“If this thing here in Miami takes off, we will be able to go to investors and say, ‘Hey this is something that is hot,’” Garber said.