After over a decade without a Major League Soccer team, soccer fans in Miami are excited to see the sport come back to the city in a big way.
In January, the MLS awarded Miami the right to an expansion team that is expected to kickoff in 2020. The decision came as a part of the MLS’ plan to expand its league from 23 teams to 26 teams by 2020.
The team’s ownership group includes Jorge and Jose Mas of Mastec, Inc., former Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank, entrepreneur Simon Fuller and English soccer icon David Beckham.
Luis Prieto, a native of Venezuela and the manager of Champions Florida Sport Bar & Complex, a restaurant that features two indoor soccer fields, said that Miami has needed a professional soccer team for a long time.
“A new team will give the sport life, here in a city that’s full of Latinos,” Prieto said. ‘It’s true that Latinos in the city love the sport, especially those from South American countries like Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil.”
Miami’s Major League Soccer roots date back to 1998, when the league introduced the Miami Fusion as one of its very first expansion teams along with the Chicago Fire. Unlike its Chicago counterpart, the Fusion are no longer a team in the MLS. The team folded in 2001.
Despite the previous failure to sustain a franchise in the area, younger soccer fans like 18-year-old Erick Ramirez, a native of Miami, are optimistic that a professional team in the city will work.
“I know a lot of my friends that like soccer and they’re always complaining and talking about how Miami doesn’t have a team,” Ramirez said. “There’s always basketball, there’s always football, but there’s never really been a soccer team to get behind so I think Miami is really going to enjoy this team.”
In addition to helping the soccer culture in the city grow, Prieto hopes a new team in Miami will help spark an increase in business at his bar. After experiencing a boom in customers during the World Cup, Prieto anticipates another boost in time.
“We’re expecting supporters to come here with a real passion for the team,” Prieto said. “I think people will fall in love with the team and will also follow the MLS more, as it’s something very few people are already doing.”
On July 18, the Miami City Commission voted 3-2 in favor of holding a referendum asking voters to decide whether to allow the stadium to be built on a city-owned golf course. The referendum will be on the ballot on Nov. 6.
Thank you @MiamiMayor and @CityofMiami Commission for their support today and allowing #Miami residents to decide this November if they share our vision for #ThisIsMiamiFreedomPark. Thank you also to our supporters, together we will make our community proud. #FUTBOLMIAMIMLS.
— Jorge Mas (@Jorge__Mas) July 18, 2018
This decision has been met with criticism from members of the community who fear the construction of the stadium will tear down the space they have used to play and practice golf, including members of First Tee of Miami, a foundation that offers golf scholarships and tutoring programs to thousands of children.
Erik Compton, a professional golfer and Miami native has publicly advocated for the city to protect the space.
— Erik Compton (@ErikCompton3) June 29, 2018
Attorney William Muir has filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County circuit court against the city of Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez, city attorney Victoria Mendez, city manager Emilio Gonzalez and each member of the Miami City Commission.
In the lawsuit Muir alleges that by allowing the team the opportunity to build the stadium on city-owned land, the city officials did not follow its own charter.
DECISION: Miami residents will vote in November on whether to authorize the City to negotiate an agreement to develop Miami Freedom Park, the proposed home of David Beckham’s @futbolmiamimls. Commissioners approved putting it on the ballot in a 3-2 vote. #mls #soccer #futbol pic.twitter.com/KdA50jl5aj
— City of Miami (@CityofMiami) July 18, 2018
Despite the controversy, fans like Corina Dorrego, who works at Champions Florida Sport Bar & Complex, are still hopeful that the city’s diversity will help a professional soccer team find success in Miami.
“Because we do have such a diverse community here in Miami everybody does have their own sport, but I would say there is a big passion for soccer here,” Dorrego said. “There are a lot of young kids that I know, that from a young age they join soccer clubs and play with them and compete nationwide.”