Their team still has no name, uniform, or players, but it is one step closer to having a home, and that was reason enough for Miami’s long-suffering Major League Soccer fans to celebrate at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
The fans, members of the team’s 500-member Southern Legion supporters group, cheered and posed with a big banner following the Miami commissioners’ 3-2 vote to put David Beckham’s proposed stadium park on the November ballot.
They arrived at City Hall as early as 4:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. meeting to make sure they’d have seats, and they stayed 12 hours until the vote.
Erick Perez of North Miami Beach, a professor at Miami Dade College and Broward College, said: “I’m a little tired, but really excited because finally we’re going to have a chance to vote on whether we will have a stadium on this site that was inaccessible before. Now we’re going to have the stadium, an open park, privately-funded and close to public transit, which I am a massive fan of. I can Metro to the games. That’s going to be great. Soccer will do great things for this city.
“After all this discussion and criticism, we ended up with something very transparent, and that transparency will help this project.”
Ramiro Vengoechea, coach of high school girls state champion Lourdes Academy and the FC Surge women’s pro team, was among those in the audience wearing a Miami MLS scarf.
“I’m a soccer guy, not a politics guy, but obviously, this is something we’ve been wanting in this city for a long time and it looks like it’s finally coming to fruition after a lot of debate and deliberation,” Vengoechea said. “We are the gateway to the Americas and have a big European influence, too, and soccer belongs here. The most important thing is, we want the people to vote. MLS has had issues in Miami in the past, but we’re hoping with this ownership group and their vision of bringing world-class players and the fan experience that we’ll have no trouble filling a 25,000-seat stadium.”
Miami ranked No. 1 in the nation for Spanish-language T.V. viewership of the 2018 World Cup on Telemundo and ranked No. 3 for English-language viewership on FOX, behind Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. A sellout crowd is expected for the July 31 game between Real Madrid and Manchester United at Hard Rock Stadium.
“We know the fandom is there in this city, it’s prevalent, just by walking down Brickell (Avenue) during any international game, you see the excitement in the streets,” said Cesar Molero, 27, of Flagami, who lives walking distance from Melreese Golf Course, the site where Beckham’s group plans to build the stadium park. “Between now and November, we need to go door-to-door and start canvassing the neighborhoods. We need to convince people – especiallymy neighbors in District I – that this team is their team and this project will be great for the whole city.”
Molero said he expects the Brickell and downtown soccer fans to support the project, partly because of its proximity to the Miami Intermodal Center transportation hub.
“People in Brickell can hop on a train and travel 10 minutes and be at the stadium,” he said. “People in Coral Gables can drive up 37thAvenue and be there. This site is very centrally located and accessible, not tucked away in some corner.”
Fan Ken Russo added: “David Beckham and Jorge Mas have said all along this is a team for the community, so it’s important to get off on the right foot with the community. It’s a great idea. Our job between now and the election is to show the community the benefits. You’re never going to convince everybody, but I’m confident we can win in November.”
Mas said Beckham and MLS officials were texting him all day ,and with this first hurdle out of the way, he is ready to announce some news about the actual team. The team name – expected to be Inter Miami or Atletico Miami– will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
“Now comes what we’ve been working on for a long time – the team name, the shield, the colors, the kits (uniforms). That will be any day,” Mas said. “I want it out faster than anyone else. We’re very, very close to hiring a general manager because we need him aboard to start our soccer operations and second, to start building where are we going to have an academy, how do we start building a team, we’re fielding a team in 2020 and want to have academy teams before.
“Now, we’re actually going to be able to discuss the actual business of a soccer team. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the last few months working on the stadium because it’s important. I feel relief and joy.”