Wearing face paint, dodging men in stilts and wearing jerseys from teams both in and out of the tournament, fans filed into the first day of the Guinness International Champions Cup at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday.
The orange seats of the lower bowl of the stadium featured a mix of colors during the seventh- and fifth-place matches pitting Serie A clubs Juventus and Inter Milan against each other and Premier League club Everton against La Liga’s Valencia.
Unlike the usual domination of a particular team at an international soccer match or even a Dolphins game, the fan base was as diverse as the teams and countries represented.
Many fans were like Theo Wiles, a Boca Raton resident and fan of La Liga’s Real Madrid, supporting the idea of any soccer in Miami just as much as they were supporting their particular teams.
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“Any time football’s going to come to town, I’m game, I’m down for it, because you don’t see it,” Wiles said.
Wiles sported a David Beckham Real Madrid jersey, which was fitting considering Beckham is a part of a group that reportedly is interested in bringing professional soccer back to Miami. At the Major League Soccer All-Star Game last month, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced plans for the league to expand to 24 teams by 2020, with Miami as one of the top contenders.
“I’m all for it, man,” Wiles said. “I hope Beckham is going to be the leader and be at the helm again. I’ll buy some tickets for that for sure.”
Another fan, Brett Silvia, shared his friend’s sentiment. Although he roots for the Premier League’s Liverpool FC, he was a supporter of Miami’s last MLS team, the Fusion, which last played in 2001. He said the team was the “greatest football club of all time.”
“When I was a child I used to have season tickets and I’d go with my father,” he said. “We went to every Miami Fusion game for the MLS.”
The team finished first in the league’s Eastern Conference only once in its four-year existence. Despite that, Silvia said he would attend every game if Miami gets a new team.
Even non-Floridians see the two-day soccer invasion as a chance for support to continue to build. David Kurtz, a California native who cofounded the fan group Everton USA, said that as the group has traveled across the country in support of Everton, Miami has been unique in how it appeals to fans of both local and international clubs.
“Playing on the West Coast, we didn’t see a lot of folks from Liverpool,” Kurtz said. “Playing in Miami, everybody comes over and travels with the team.”
And even as fans of Inter Milan and Chelsea infiltrated his group’s tailgate, he was still congenial and happy for the opportunity the tournament is giving South Florida soccer enthusiasts.
“This truly is a unique event for Miami to have all these world-class teams in one place,” Kurtz said. “There’s nowhere in the whole world, at any point, where you’ll ever see eight teams of this quality in once place, and I hope Miami supports it with great fervor.”