David Beckham's MLS expansion effort in Miami has plenty of hurdles to overcome before breaking ground on a soccer-specific stadium. Likewise, conventional wisdom holds that the US national team is seen as a long shot to survive the “Group of Death” at this summer's World Cup in Brazil.
But living legend Pelé gave a full-blooded endorsement of both projects in a media appearance in Miami on Monday, calling Beckham's Miami project “fantastic” and urging USMNT fans to “be hopeful” as they gird for group-stage clashes with Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
“To have a name like Beckham is very important,” he told the Miami Herald in reference to MLS's return to South Florida. “Everybody knows I came here with the [New York] Cosmos [of the old NASL] to promote soccer and now you have a player like Beckham doing the same, and it is fantastic.
“I think it will do well not only in Miami, but the whole United States. People don’t remember, when I arrived, soccer in this country was good, but mostly with children. Today, the US is the same level as Europe – they almost made semifinals in the 2002 World Cup, and the base is more organized than in Brazil and maybe all of South America. I am happy because I feel I was part of it.”
Making a promotional appearance in Miami's Wynwood arts district, Pelé spoke of his native Brazil's pride and joy in hosting the world's biggest sporting event for the first time since 1950, when he recalled watching, at the age of 9, his father cry for the first time after the home side were stunned in the tournament final by Uruguay.
“It is a very big responsibility for Brazil to host the World Cup, and everyone in Brazil wants our team to win,” he said. “The Brazil of today is different from what we saw before. Almost all Brazilian players play in Europe, and we used to be known mainly for great forwards, but this team is better from the midfield back. The defense is fantastic.”
Pelé cited the USA's Group G rivals Germany as one of the host nation's main rivals for this year's championship trophy, but nonetheless offered warm praise for USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his men.
“Klinsmann is a great trainer and has a lot of experience,” he said. “We have to respect American soccer today. The US group is very difficult with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, but soccer is a box of surprises, so nobody knows what will happen. I think American fans should be hopeful, and I have no doubt they are good enough to advance.”