MIAMI – Monday was triumphant. MLS was coming to Miami. Finally.
It was a long, long way to come in 60 days, when the possibility seemed as remote as it ever had in the four years since global soccer icon David Beckham enacted an option to purchase an expansion team and decided on Miami as the target.
Beckham, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and MLS Commissioner Don Garber met for a meal.
"We just could not get this deal approved by the MLS ownership," Garber said at a media roundtable on Monday, following the official expansion announcement. "It just did not have the strength of local ownership that gave us the confidence they could fund what was necessary to do the things that need to happen to make this a successful team."
For years, potential stadium sites had been scuttled until the Overtown site proposal came together last year. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez acknowledged meeting MLS requirements in the "urban core" proved particularly difficult in an escalating market. Ready to help, but stuck on the sidelines, he could only hope that a local candidate could come through to push forward the bid.
Back in New York, Claure sat across from Beckham, and the pair couldn't come to call it there. He thought about the Southern Legion, supporters stranded without a squad, calling and emailing to ensure all avenues were pursued, and couldn't come up with a message he felt comfortable delivering to the group.
And then – it clicked. Claure had been contacted by Jorge Mas, one-half of MasTec leadership (with brother José), who knew about the ongoing pursuit and wanted to chat. Unknown to Claure, Mas had been tipped off by a financial contact that he could boost the MLS-to-Miami effort. A self-described man of faith, Mas maintains that this was the way it was meant to go do down.
The pair met, along with fellow investor Simon Fuller, for dinner in New York. They shared a vision, one of doing something great for the City of Miami, for soccer. They outlined a framework for how they'd collaborate, combining "workstreams" to align the operations.
"We all sat down, and it was a magical moment," Claure said. "We found the missing link. We found a local partner, who knows Miami, who could supplement what we were bringing to the table. If it wasn't for David, or Jorge and José, we would not be here today."
A second meeting followed, this time including Commissioner Garber, in a New Jersey restaurant right off the airport highways. The pieces came together, and that determination to succeed quickly impressed Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, elected in November and "elated" to be part of the process, even before the final elements fit.
"It's certainly a feather in our cap that Major League Soccer can choose any city in the United States, but they have been so patient, and so determined and so dogged to be in Miami," Suarez said. "That says something about our city."
Mas spotted the opportunity to ensure a legacy, and undertook a mad dash, eight weeks of effort that ended up encompassing 90 percent of his business schedule for the final month. He wouldn't have done it without Beckham being involved, bringing the soccer bona fides and unparalleled experience from the world's top leagues to bear on an ascendant MLS.
"We're a community that's a cultural mosaic – so many different nationalities – but soccer runs in the blood," Mas said. "I think the plans we have for the soccer team are different, are innovative. And I think it's going to be a proud symbol for Miami and we can convert this to MLS's global team.
"I want all the sports franchises in Miami to succeed. But we're going to rock it."
For all that enthusiasm, for all the dinners and for all the obstacles along the way, it was Beckham's singular drive and determination driving the dream forward, forward and finally to fruition.
"When I was awarded the team," Beckham said, "There was only ever one city. I never give up. "