NEW YORK – For all the challenges David Beckham has encountered during his decades-long rank as a global soccer icon, he said that none has been greater than getting Inter Miami CF off the ground.
But come Sunday at LAFC (5:30 pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), a seven-year waiting period will conclude when Beckham’s Inter Miami CF faces the defending Supporters’ Shield winners. Beckham, whose 2007 arrival to the LA Galaxy pioneered the Designated Player rule, reflected on Miami going from purely a concept to MLS participant. Along the way, plenty of political obstacles cast questions over the club truly getting off the ground.
“I've sat with [Commissioner Don Garber], and the Commissioner has done an incredible job for this league in this country,” Beckham, Miami co-owner and president of soccer operations, said Wednesday at MLS Media Day. “[We’d] turn around to each other like, honestly, do we really think this is going to happen. There wasn't one moment where I said you know what, I'll walk away from this. I knew that Miami was the right place to do this, and like I said, my commitment was always to the league.”
Garber also acknowledged that honest questions about Miami's MLS future would surface during his conversations with Beckham, but he wanted to maintain his commitment. Eventually, that paved the road for Miami hiring Concacaf Champions League winner Diego Alonso as head coach, landing a Mexican superstar in Rodolfo Pizarro and giving the sporting director reigns to Paul McDonough, a veteran of similar projects at Orlando City and Atlanta United. Their brand has also become globally-recognized, with world-famous players linked to the South Florida outfit on a near-daily basis.
Still, obstacles often shaped Beckham’s remarks as the expansion club nears their 2020 MLS debut.
“Someone turned around to me a few minutes ago and [asked] what were the biggest challenges,” Beckham said. “My answer was everything that we've tried to do to get this franchise up and running was a challenge. There wasn't one thing from finding the land, thinking what kind of stadium we want, what kind of players we want, what kind of manager we want, even down to what tiles we had in the showers. Everything was a challenge. But, like I said, I wasn't going to give up. I was never going to give up in any way.”
Beckham’s not alone in steering Inter Miami, with managing owner Jorge Mas also a central figure. He reinforced the impact Beckham has had in crafting the club, especially worldwide, with the return of MLS to Miami another central theme.
The Miami Fusion competed in the Magic City from 1998 through 2001, meaning local fans have had to wait nearly two decades for top-flight soccer to return to their multicultural, cosmopolitan home. That patience hits home for Mas, who highlighted their March 14 (2:30 pm ET | FOX, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) home opener against the LA Galaxy as another monumental moment.
“I was born and bred in Miami,” Mas said. “I didn't know we had something so special, and I think that our team – there are great teams in Miami with the NBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball and hockey – but I think we have something different. I think the emotion and passion that goes with soccer in Miami, it'll be reflected not only in our community, but I think where the league sees itself in the future.”
Their home, at least for now, will be a temporary stadium in Fort Lauderdale, with Mas confirming the club will definitely play there for two years as the Miami Freedom Park project crosses the final hurdles. Mas added that he’s “very confident” that in the next 60-90 days they’ll get the green light to proceed.
As those off-field areas get sorted, questions naturally surface to what defines success for Inter Miami in year No. 1. And comparisons have shifted to Atlanta (2017) and LAFC (2018), a pair of recent expansion clubs that have collectively raised the bar for all MLS franchises. They'll provide a measuring stick, Beckham said, with Atlanta winning MLS Cup during their second year and LAFC taking home a Supporters’ Shield in record-setting fashion over the same timespan.
“We look at great teams and great franchises like Atlanta, who set the bar so high with the fanbase that they have, the amount of people they get to their games every week,” Beckham said. “I think that's where the bar stands. Like I said, LAFC have done exactly the same. They've created a culture within their club that every team wants to create, it's what we all want to do.
“So, yes, the bar has been set very high. But this is where the league is right now and that's what we want to achieve. We want to be known as one of the most feared franchises and one of the best franchises in the league. We hope to do that.”
As that journey unfolds, Mas noted earlier this week how they’re looking to fill their third DP slot with a striker. It won’t be about just landing a star, but rather the right player – at least based on Beckham’s remarks as he harkened back to his playing days under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
“We still want to continue to grow this club and grow this team,” Beckham said. “It's one thing I learned from Sir Alex Ferguson. It's not sometimes all about bringing the biggest names and the biggest players to a club. They have to be the right players that fit into our culture, that fit into our team and that integrate within the team that we've created already.”
In the scope of challenges Miami and Beckham have faced, odds are they’ll welcome that one with open arms. It'll be but another chapter on this seven-year journey, which has their club positioned to thrive in 2020.
"For me, on the 14th of March when we kick that ball in our stadium," Beckham started, "knowing what we’ve been through the last couple of years and knowing what I personally have been through over the last seven years with this project to try and get it going, that’s the sign of success for us."