SOCCER

Spain to play soccer friendly vs. Haiti national team at Sun Life Stadium

 

World Cup champion Spain is expected to have its full roster when it plays Haiti in an exhibition match June 8 at Sun Life Stadium.

mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

South Florida soccer fans will get a rare up-close look at reigning World Cup and European champion Spain when La Roja visits Sun Life Stadium on June 8 for a 4 p.m. exhibition match against the Haitian national team.

The Spanish national team, the first in history to win a World Cup sandwiched between back-to-back Euro titles, plans to bring its full star-studded roster and spend one week training at Barry University. The team will travel from Miami to Brazil for the 2013 Confederations Cup, a 2014 World Cup tune-up that runs June 15-30.

Among the FC Barcelona and Real Madrid stars expected for the Sun Life Stadium match: Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.

“We want to make Sun Life Stadium the hotbed, the focal point for large, prestigious international games, and what better place to start than with the World Cup champions?” said Charlie Stillitano, CEO of Relevant, the soccer arm of Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ RSE Ventures. “There is no question they will have all their top players because they will go from here to Confederations Cup. It’s a great opportunity for South Florida fans to see the best team in the world. We anticipate a sellout. Tickets will be scarce.”

Stadium officials expect a huge turnout from the local Haitian community. Haiti won the 2007 Caribbean Nations Cup. The national team last played in Miami in July 2007 against then-Copa Libertadores champions Boca Juniors. The Haitian roster will include top players Johnny Placide, Jeff Louis, Jean-Jacques Pierre, Jean Sony Alcenat and Reginal Goreux.

Some of the ticket proceeds will be donated to Project Phoenix to aid Haitian redevelopment after the massive damage from the 2010 earthquake. Part of the money will be used to help fund a national stadium in Cite Soleil, an impoverished area in metropolitan Port-au-Prince.

SOCCER-FRIENDLY

When the Marlins moved to their new home in Little Havana, Sun Life Stadium officials became proactive in trying to fill the open dates with other events. Soccer makes a lot of sense because this area has a history of drawing big crowds for top-flight international matches.

In August 2011, 71,000 showed up to watch Spanish giant Barcelona play Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara in an exhibition match. In February 2012, 51,615 were in the building for an exhibition between the national teams of Colombia and Mexico. Fans traveled from 27 countries and 39 states for the Barca-Chivas match, and 10 countries and 31 states for the Colombia-Mexico match.

Miami had the highest American TV ratings for the 2010 and 2006 World Cups. Miami drew the biggest TV audience in the nation for the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. And, Miami trailed only New York in TV viewership for the 2012 European Championship.

“This is the first of several big games we have planned for this year,” Stillitano said. “There will be more announcements in the next few months.”

Former Dolphins owner Joe Robbie designed and built the stadium in 1987 with soccer in mind. The field meets FIFA specifications. The sightlines are soccer-friendly. It more closely resembles European soccer stadiums than most American stadiums.

The Robbie family was a champion for soccer in the area and owned the Fort Lauderdale Strikers from 1977 to 1983.

Were it not for the Marlins calendar conflict, the stadium surely would have hosted matches — and maybe even the final — during the 1994 World Cup.

RENOVATIONS key

The stadium was modified to accommodate baseball in the early 1990s, but renovations are planned that would better facilitate soccer. Additional seats would be added along the sidelines, and seats would be closer than where they are now. A partial roof covering also would help for rainy days.

“This was one of the best soccer stadiums in the world when it was built, but now it is showing some age,” Stillitano said. “It also could use at least a partial roof over the fans. The Spanish team officials asked us why we don’t have one, and wondered what happens if it rains or is too hot during the match. We’re crossing our fingers.”

Advance tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Tickets will be made available to the general public at 10 a.m. Friday. They start at $29 and a limited number of VIP field seats will be made available on the sidelines.

All ticket-holders will be invited to watch practice at the stadium the day before the match.

Fans can purchase tickets at www.sunlifestadium.com and www.ticketmaster.com or by calling the Sun Life Stadium box office at (305) 943-8000.

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