Chris Costa fondly remembers being a ball boy for the now-defunct Miami Fusion, the last Major League Soccer team to represent the magic city before disbanding in 2001.
“We were there for the last game,” he shouted over a small army of die-hard soccer fans known as the Southern Legion, the group’s sky-blue scarf draped around his neck.
Before any player puts a foot to a ball, before the new Miami team’s official name and colors are revealed, before the Carnival-like spectacle of drums and dancers preceding the event inside the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center, and before the construction of a stadium, these soccer supporters hooted and hollered their way into Monday’s announcement like a victory celebration for Miami’s futbol team.
After a late-morning rain, the sun came out just in time for dozens of Southern Legion members to march from the American Airlines Arena to the Arsht Center, chanting and waving U.S., Spanish, Argentine and other flags. They lovingly chanted some of the owners’ names — David Beckham, Marcelo Claure and Jorge and Jose Mas — and sprayed plumes of blue smoke while cars cruising on Biscayne Boulevard honked.
“I’ve been waiting for this ever since,” said Costa, 33, as the crowd grew louder on the approach to the auditorium.
As the event got under way, members of the Southern Legion roared from their seats — in the lower bowl in the auditorium but not exactly front row. Those seats were reserved for the VIPs. There may have been a few more standing ovations if the diehards had been seated up front.
But the Legion was recognized by every speaker, from the politicians to the emcee to the owners. The group and the hundreds of other fans who filled the rest of the auditorium might have been the real stars of the show. They showered each owner with cheers, and the owners responded by thanking the fans for their insistence.
Claure was clear: 60 days ago, it looked like it was over. There would be no team in Miami. Then the Mas brothers entered the fold, providing the local ownership piece. But Claure and Beckham said the people who wanted the team the most weighed heavily as the years-long process played out.
“The one thing that kept me going was you guys,” said Beckham, eliciting loud adoration from the audience. He and the ownership team all extended their thanks to the soccer supporters who relentlessly pushed for an MLS team, regularly calling and emailing to make sure it was going to happen.
Sitting up in the balcony, Julian Gonzalez, 23, said he’s wanted a Miami MLS team since he moved here from Colombia in 2005. He follows Miami’s Division II team, Miami FC, but he said it’s not the same.
“Soccer runs in my veins,” said the Medellin native. “It’s something I grew up with. We always followed soccer, but we wanted a team here.”
Gonzalez’s friend Brittany Woodruff, 20, has played soccer since she was 4 years old. She said she trusts Beckham to assemble a successful team.
“I’ve always admired him. He’s inspired me as a player,” she said, tracing her fandom back to when her father used to tell her to “bend it like Beckham.” A New Jersey native who is attending Florida International University, Woodruff owned a pair of Beckham-endorsed cleats when she was younger.
Before the owners and politicians took the stage, hundreds of attendees hoisted cellphones to capture women in Carnivale-style outfits dancing to a drum line’s beat. The crowd erupted when black-and-white confetti fell and a banner was unfurled in the auditorium displaying the Freedom Tower, the Southern Legion’s logo, a thank you message to the owners and three sentences:
“We are one. We are Miami futbol. Prepare for Glory.”