A soccer doubleheader involving two Caribbean nations, two Central American nations scheduled to start before dusk on a summer Friday night. Yeah, that’s South Florida.
That also means you can’t savor the flavor on time. We roll late. We party best after sundown.
That’s why, despite strong Haitian representation buoyed by the national team giving Italy and Spain tough goes, the place Joe Robbie built for both kinds of football took the Haiti vs. Trinidad and Tobago opener to get revved up and hummed through Honduras vs. El Salvador.
Until about the 60th minute of Haiti’s 2-0 win, you could be forgiven for thinking they could’ve used a smaller boat for this CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader. The gathering felt as if subjugated into subdued tones by the looming empty upper deck and near-empty club level of Sun Life Stadium.
Despite occasional drumbeats, you could see a direct correlation between how energetically Haitian fans bounced in front of their seats and how many feet the Jumbotron feed’s cameraman stood in front of them. Ah, the universal love of getting face time on the screen.
Outside, this being South Florida, traffic clogged the area with late arrivals for the first game and late arrivals for the second game’s tailgating. As I wheeled through the Purple Lot I usually use for parking when covering Dolphins games and past Honduras fans in loud, energetic discussion, I recalled less energy around some Dolphins games.
Inside, the lower bowl stands filled in the fading natural light. Jean Eudes Maurice’s second goal punched the Haitian lead to 2-0 and the boogieing began in earnest. The lower rows around the stadium shook shoulders and twisted torsos to rhythms from one stadium corner.
As Haiti’s Cuban-born coach Israel Blake Cantero defended his personnel deployment for Haiti’s 2-0 loss to Honduras on Monday and NFL wide receiver Pierre Garcon basked in the emotion with the players, the rumbling from outside sent ears the same message the blue and white predominance told eyes: the nightcap was the main event.
Honduras vs. El Salvador (or “Little Havana Caravans to Miami Gardens”) filled the lower bowl and the ends of the Club Level with passion rippling like the country flags a quarter of the people seemed to have. Each scoring chance, change of possession and quite a few cute moves brought another roar amidst the pushing percussions.
Feeling that loud love of the game running through you seduces people into Major League Soccer franchise talk for Miami. But it’s the transference trick nobody has been able to turn yet — taking love of a native (or one generation removed) national team or national league and moving it to a club team with players of different countries wearing different colors.
A quota system runs against American spirit and sporting spirit, but an MLS franchise here would need lead players of Caribbean, Central American and South American lineage as badly as Miami needs mass transit. And there should be a team band versed in all forms of dance music played in those regions.
I’ve been in that stadium for crowds two and three times as big as the official attendance count Friday — 28,713. Few of those crowds kept their charge as long.
That’s our town. Once we get started.