Paul McDonough is sitting at a desk at MasTec headquarters on the 10th floor of a Coral Gables office building Thursday morning, overlooking the downtown Miami skyline off in the distance. He hasn’t spent much time in South Florida, is still moving into his apartment, and admits he is just starting to get acclimated to the area.
But one thing he already has figured out after two weeks at his new job: Miami’s melting pot of a population is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about soccer, “can pick out frauds,” and will be highly demanding of him and his bosses.
McDonough was recently hired as the Sporting Director for David Beckham’s soon-to-be-named Miami Major League Soccer team, which means it is his job to assemble the team by the start of the 2020 season, manage all sports decisions, negotiate player and coach contracts, and oversee the launch and construction of the training site and youth academy.
He will report directly to Beckham and the team’s managing partner, Jorge Mas. McDonough has plenty of experience with MLS expansion teams. He comes to Miami from Atlanta United, which in its second season sits atop the MLS standings and leads the league in attendance with 52,409 fans per game. Before that, he helped launch Orlando City.
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McDonough sat down with the Miami Herald for his first South Florida interview and shared his thoughts and vision for the Miami MLS team, expected to be named Inter Miami.
Q: What are your most pressing priorities in the coming months?
A: Getting acclimated to the area. Understanding the culture and soccer environment down here is really, really big. Getting familiar with the ownership group. I am spending this time getting my legs under me, talking to people, trying to get as educated as possible because every city and every culture is different. I want to show that the respect it deserves before implementing plans.
Q: First impressions of Miami? How is it different from Atlanta and Orlando?
A: This is a melting pot, so much diversity. The people here have been dying for soccer. Soccer is in the blood of the people here. In Atlanta, there are transplants, but there is a big youth soccer community and no one really knew how it was going to take off. A lot of kids play soccer, you just didn’t know it was going to catch on as well as it did. Orlando is a city that had never really done well in professional sports and no one ever thought the millennials would take to it like they did and were so passionate.
Q: Miami has always been among the national leaders in TV viewership for the World Cup, Champions League and European leagues, and sellout crowds of 70,000 show up for exhibition matches between famous clubs, but the market has never fully embraced MLS. How will you convince South Florida’s diehard fans of the international game that they should be loyal to their local team and the domestic league?
A: Look, I think smart soccer people can pick out frauds. I think if we are transparent and open with our plans, treat our fans with respect, build good facilities, are thoughtful in our approach with our academy and put a good product on the field, the local soccer people will get behind it. Look how excited people got yesterday about the rumor of the logo. Everyone can have a favorite team in Europe or South America, but this is their local team and this is where you live. You can support two teams. One you can watch on T.V. and one you can go to the stadium and see it, feel it, support it. You don’t have to feel like you’re cheating on your favorite foreign team if you also love your local team.
Q: You had a high-ranking position with Atlanta, a team that is one of the leaders in the league on and off the field. Why did you leave that to take on the challenges of the Miami expansion team?
A: What really stuck with me in meeting the ownership group was David and Marcelo (Claure) were so passionate about Miami, and had tried really, really hard and I think adding Jorge and Jose (Mas) really with the local passion for Miami really put it over the top. When Jorge talks about Miami, it made me think back to (Atlanta United and Falcons owner) Arthur (Blank) and the way he felt about Atlanta.
Q: What is your timetable over the next 18 months to be ready for the 2020 season?
A: We need to first decide our infrastructure, facilities, academy, staffing, budgets. Then, a year out, it’s about assembling the team, the players, the coach, all that. I’ve met with a lot of youth soccer coaching directors already to share our vision. We also want to reach out to find the kids under the radar who are not playing on the top clubs because they can’t afford it. How do we get kids from Homestead to training and back? Do we start a program in Little Haiti, try to develop talent in pockets where there is a lot of talent but not a lot of coaching. If we make Miami youth soccer better, that will be our feeder system.
Q: What kind of team do you expect to put on the field? Will it be a glamour team, as people often expect of Miami?
A: Too early to tell. We could go a few different ways. The one thing you know is it has to be an exciting team. We have to score goals. Nobody wants to see a team defend. They want to see goals.
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