MIAMI – It was, probably, the reggaeton remix of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” making surfaces vibrate with its club-level decibels, that tied everything together on Monday afternoon at the Knight Concert Hall at downtown Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center. The big deal? Another announcement from the David Beckham-fronted ownership group pursuing MLS expansion in Miami. The vibe? Gleefully over-the-top, the soundtrack and sights a mix of urban Latin culture with a nod to Europe. Phone cameras snapped and supporters for the still-to-come-team randomly broke out into chants – it was all so willfully extra, just like the city hosting the event.
Ah, Miami, my hometown – it managed to welcome everyone with two separate deluges of rain in the morning before the event, lasting, of course, only about 15 minutes each before sunshine gave way. That temporary threat didn't stop the Southern Legion supporter's group from their scheduled march to the venue from further downtown. And once the sun came out – making things a balmy, humid 78 degrees in late January – the proceedings got flashily underway.
Women dancing in Carnaval outfits? Check. A pre-event audio trip through the collected Pitbull-remix oeuvre? Check. Celebrities dotting the VIP reserved rows in front? Check. Confetti guns sprayed liberally indoors? Check. A city mayor offering arcane banter onstage about local Catholic schools, understood only by very longtime locals raised west of the I-95 corridor? Check.
All of this marked another punctuation mark in the long process of David Beckham’s “dream,” as he described it, in bringing MLS to Miami. Details on the crest, colors, name, and pretty much everything else are still forthcoming – but Miami loves a party for basically any reason. (No, really – during one Art Basel, I attended a private-club party for a water bottle; crab legs were served.) Life is short! Celebrate!
But now (more) of the real work begins. The team’s current ownership group, with the addition of the Mas brothers, has struck an attractive mix of out-of-town glitz and local wheel-greasers. If anyone can navigate the area’s penchant for both celebrity shine, alongside memories and relationships dating back to everyone’s old countries, it’s this bunch.
At the level of the supporters and fans – the people who would actually cheer and fill seats — my mind goes to the success Nashville has seen recently around soccer. Miami, like Nashville, is a city of transplants, although sort of exponentially, historically more so – and a new team gives people an opportunity to connect, especially if they fully embrace the region’s international, often-misunderstood, gritty-glam identity.
The nods to fútbol – and the Latin American take on the sport – are smart, though I’d argue there are other communities from the Caribbean and beyond, represented in South Florida, with an appetite for the game who should be welcomed into the fold. All of these groups, naturally, come with their own hometown club alliances, too. At the same time, of course, there’s Beckham and his blockbuster-European-team pedigree.
If the team's future head coach can take up the current MLS vogue for signing up-and-comers from Central and South America – and sprinkle it with a few of Beckham’s star-studded European contacts – that should be a good start. The on-field product will have to follow through. With South Florida’s population of soccer diehards from elsewhere – as well as longtime locals with a wealth of the game on offer, both in TV and in person – there’s no fooling anyone with lead-footed touches and uncreative thinking.
Finally, another big opportunity – to reach out to communities In the far-flung suburbs to tap into the natural affinity and talent for the game there. Shout out to Will Parchman for this tweet, one of the few, if not the only, time I’ve seen a non-South Floridian shout out the southwest Miami-Dade County suburban sprawl of Kendall as a soccer hotbed:
I will say this about Miami: if Club Becks can marshal even half that city’s criminally underserved youth market (Weston & Kendall alone would do it) that’s a mythological titan being hauled out of its sandy slumber.— Will Parchman (@WillParchman) January 29, 2018
He’s totally right, though Weston’s pretty well known on the scene as a place with high-end travel clubs and prospects; Alejandro Bedoya got his start there, of course. Meanwhile a little further north, Jozy Altidore flourished in Boca Raton.
But, as we discussed on yesterday's ExtraTime Radio, vast swaths of the sprawl throughout the three counties that comprise South Florida – Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach – host less-flashy, less-fancy clubs and pickup games day and night. If Beckham’s Miami MLS group can truly integrate its academy outreach in these areas, the community could truly embrace it back.
So we’ve got the confetti, the flash, the well wishes from a glossy-magazine’s worth of celebrities.
But we’ve also got megawatt David Beckham showing up to thank the supporters of Southern Legion at Fado, like a regular guy.
Keeping up the balancing act among all these different factors will be a challenge, but one that’s exciting to take on in an area where soccer-mad folks arrive daily. I’ll be watching with a hopeful eye.
ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: ExtraTime Radio has a case of the Mondays, which is to say MLS went absolutely crazy with news (and we promise to never say that phrase again). David Beckham's Miami dream was finally realized, Justin Meram was traded to Orlando and those Zlatan rumors are back! Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode! Have something to say? Call or text the #HotTakeHotline at 401-206-0MLS.