Michelle Kaufman: Leiweke envisions top-caliber franchise in Miami

Of course, as David Beckham’s friend, business partner and lead negotiator in the Miami Major League Soccer stadium project, Tim Leiweke’s opinion might be a bit biased.

But he told the Miami Herald Editorial Board in a one-hour meeting Thursday that if a stadium deal is ironed out, Miami “will be the best franchise in MLS. In fact, I think it has a chance of being the most important franchise in all of the Americas.”

He also declared: “The greatest players in the world are going to want to come play here.”

There is no question Leiweke knows soccer, knows pro sports, and has an impressive record over the past 20 years as one of America’s most accomplished sports power brokers. In 1980, at age 24, he became the youngest general manager in any U.S. league when he took over the Baltimore Blast of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

He later helped get the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves off the ground, was president of the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Kings and the Los Angeles Galaxy. At one point, as president of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), he was running six MLS franchises.

He is credited with luring Beckham from Real Madrid to the Galaxy, and helped negotiate Beckham’s MLS contract, which included the right to own a franchise upon his retirement.

Leiweke said he feels a personal responsibility to get the Beckham-Miami deal done because it is what he and the league promised the British soccer star 10 years ago. Also, he joked, because Beckham “has threatened me with bodily damage if we don’t get this done.”

Asked why they continue to pursue Miami after hitting so many roadblocks, why they don’t just take the team to a city with an easier stadium situation, Leiweke had plenty to say.

“First, it’s David Beckham,” he said. “Those who think he is not involved — I talk to him every day. He’s designing unis, thinking about logos. But he’s thinking about the team. And that’s where he’s going to be brilliant. If a dumb country boy from L.A. [mocking himself] is able to go get David Beckham from Real Madrid, imagine who David Beckham can get for Miami.

“Players want to live here. The greatest players in the world are going to want to come play here. It’s not lost on us that you have a better tax situation here than say, New York or L.A.”

He went on to say that Miami is a unique market as a gateway to Latin America, and one MLS has been focused on since the inception of the league in the mid-1990s. It is why they launched the Miami Fusion in 1998, but that team, which played at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, folded in 2001. It is also the city Beckham has chosen as the home for his proposed team.

“I don’t look past Atlanta and how great that team’s going to be, or St. Paul,” he said. “But you have the city of the Americas, the capital of all the emerging markets in all of South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America. Everyone knows that. You’re the largest metro area without an MLS team.”

He predicted a first-class team with top-rate players.

“We’re going to try very hard to make it work because if we get it done, it’s David Beckham. And it’s Miami. We’re going to have the best team in the Americas. He’s going to be able to attract talent here that’s an amazing beacon and brand for Miami. David will do it right. He is very driven by that Beckham brand. You can pretty much bet the house you will get a lead team in MLS, and a leading citizen within Miami.”

▪ Dempsey missing: Veteran forward Clint Dempsey was left off the U.S. roster for the opening game of 2018 World Cup qualifying. The game is Nov. 13 against St. Vincent & the Grenadines at Busch Stadium in St. Louis (ESPN2, 6:30 p.m.).

“Every time you say the words ‘World Cup’ it means so much to everyone involved that it gets you pumped up and energetic,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “The players realize it’s going to be a long marathon toward Russia 2018, but we have to start it on the right foot. With St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, they’re two nations that are not taken lightly. They are good teams. T&T proved it in the previous Gold Cup. With St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we have a team that is an unknown, but we watch their previous games and make ourselves familiar with their players. At the end of the day you still don’t really know what to expect, so it’s going to be very interesting.”

U.S. roster by position: Goalkeepers — Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton). Defenders — Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham FC), Brek Shea (Orlando City SC). Midfielders — Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Miguel Ibarra (Club Leon), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland). Forwards — Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Alan Gordon (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (Galaxy).

Who’s leading

EPL: Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester City (25), Manchester United (24), Tottenham (21).

La Liga: Real Madrid, Barcelona (24), Celta Vigo (21), Atletico Madrid and Villarreal (20).

Serie A: Fiorentina and Inter (24), Roma (23), Naploli (22), Milan (20).

Ligue 1: PSG (35), Caen (24), Lyon, ASSE and Angers (22).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (34), Dortmund (26), Wolfsburg (21), Hertha BSC and Schalke (20).

On the tube

Sunday: Aston Villa vs. Manchester City (8:30 a.m., NBCSN), Arsenal vs. Tottenham (11 a.m., NBCSN), N.Y. vs. DC (3 p.m., ESPN), Columbus vs. Montreal (5 p.m., ESPN), Dallas vs. Seattle (7:30 p.m., FS1), Vancouver vs. Portland (10 p.m, ESPN).