NEW YORK — David Beckham knew it would be hard to bring an MLS club to Miami. He just didn’t know it would be quite this hard.
In the opening month of the 2020 season, the new club is celebrating years of work in the best way possible — an inaugural game at LAFC, followed by a sold out home opener two weeks later.
But the path to this weekend’s season opener has been harder — and much longer — than Beckham and his partners throughout the league ever expected.
“The Miami project is one that really tested us,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “It tested our courage, it the tested our commitment. It tested our belief in this idea that Major League Soccer can be successful, anywhere [and] everywhere.”
When Beckham announced his intention to bring a club of his own to MLS seven years ago, he fully expected to have a team on a pitch in a brand new stadium in Miami within two years. But the process didn’t move that quickly.
Despite his fame and sway in the soccer world, Beckham came to realize that he didn’t know Miami well enough to effectively integrate himself into the city and affect the change necessary to establish a club.
That’s where Jorge Mas came in. The Inter Miami co-owner is deeply woven into every aspect of the culture of Miami — business, philanthropy and, now, sports. Garber described him as “a beast” and a “formidable foe” during the early stages of building the club.
Although Beckham is considered the face of the franchise, the star hopes to give as much credit as possible to Mas and his family.
“He is the reason why this is happening,” Beckham said. “He is the reason why we have a great facility in Fort Lauderdale. He is the reason we are able to do the things we are doing in Miami and South Florida.”
Mas addressed the fact many expected Beckham to be something of a figurehead, popping in and out of Miami irregularly. But that’s been far from the case — Beckham has been deeply involved with constructing the brand of the club, from big picture ideas down to helping select the tiles of the showers in the training facility.
For the fledgling club, Beckham’s presence offers something that stretches beyond just the city of Miami. For a club that hopes to become a global representative for American soccer, Beckham offers the appropriate level of stardom to draw eyes from Europe and around the globe.
Former teammate and USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said Beckham’s return to MLS — this time as an owner — brings a shine to the league.
“The way I look at it is very similar to the impact he had as a player,” Berhalter said. “Him being an owner brings this global spotlight to Major League Soccer and into Miami. Where he goes, where he operates, it brings a lot of attention [and] a lot of spotlight which is going to help our product keep advancing and give people a lot of awareness of Major League Soccer.”
Now, Beckham’s club is fully poised to host its first home game in a stadium that Mas says looks “amazing.” Although it won’t be the long-standing stadium for the club, Mas is hesitant to refer to the team’s current digs as a “temporary” stadium. Construction on the facility, he said, was pursued at the same level as a long-term facility, completed in slightly less than nine months
Mas expects for the club to remain in Fort Lauderdale for its first two seasons in MLS, with hopes that the stadium in Miami will be completed in time for the 2022. That will rely on the next three months, as the club works with the city of Miami to receive a green light to begin construction.
The club expects to receive that approval in the next 60 to 90 days. If that process is delayed, the team might have to remain in Fort Lauderdale through 2023; however Mas says Inter Miami will not remain in that stadium for more than three seasons.
Inter Miami’s focus in creating top-level facilities reflects the way Beckham hopes to grow both the club and the league as a whole. By increasing competition through his own club, Beckham said he hopes to help MLS fully shake off the moniker of being a “retirement league.”
“If owners and new franchises keep coming into this league and keep growing this league … this should never be a league where players from Europe come to retire,” Beckham said. “That’s not what you want to do, it’s not where we want to be. We want to bring players here that actually want to be here to play and to further their career.”
Days before Inter Miami’s inaugural match, Garber received an email from an unexpected source — Ken Horowitz, the former owner of the now-defunct Miami Fusion. Horowitz shared memories of Miami’s soccer roots and celebrated the game’s return to South Florida.
Garber said Miami has always been a market he’s been eager to pursue. But the Fusion were a failure for the league, closing in 2001 after struggling to find a footing in the Miami market during four seasons.
When launching the campaign to bring MLS back to Miami, Garber said he took a similar approach to the one used with LAFC following the failure of Chivas USA, analyzing past mistakes in order to avoid a repetition.
Even if that 1998 club possessed all of the assets of Inter Miami — the firepower of David Beckham, the community connection of Jorge Mas — Garber doesn’t necessarily believe it would’ve been successful. The league has changed in the last two decades, and the commissioner said clubs are now in a better position to capture difficult markets such as Miami and Atlanta.
To Garber, the anticipated success of Inter Miami is all about timing.
“At that time, we didn’t have the strength, we didn’t have the capacity and we didn’t have the momentum,” Garber said. “The country just wasn’t ready. Now, all of our energy is going to be focused going forward … and that speaks to the new Miami.”