Miami aspires to be soccer hotbed
Will SunLife Stadium be home for an MLS franchise?
MIAMI -- Few things are judged before their conclusion, but the success of soccer in the city of Miami seemed to be one of them.
After all, the mix of Latin American cultures makes South Florida a special metropolis.
South America, Central America and the Caribbean are thoroughly represented among Miami residents, and soccer is the main sport for many of them. Even for those for whom it isn't, the so-called "passion of the people" continues to have a place in their hearts.
The MLS was aware of this fact, and thus decided to bring the Miami Fusion franchise to the Magic City in 1998.
The result, however, was not as expected.
The Fusion coexisted with empty seats and the "experiment" lasted only three years.
"I can't explain the reason why," Claudia Lezcano, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Miami Dolphins, stated. "But everything comes in due time."
And that time seems to be right now, considering the number of spectators at the recent exhibition games held in Miami.
On Aug. 3, 2011, 70,080 people filled SunLife Stadium to witness the international club friendly between Chivas and Barcelona, and set a new attendance record for a soccer game in this city.
People truly enjoyed a very good show, and even the soccer stars were impressed by the stadium that the Dolphins call home.
"What many people don't know is that this stadium was originally built as a soccer field," said Todd Boyan, the Dolphins' senior vice president of operations. "I recall that the folks from Chivas as well as those from Barcelona told us that it was the best field in which they'd played."
I don't blame them, given that the grass really does look immaculate. The caretaker of the field confessed to me that "now that baseball is not played here -- the Marlins have their own stadium -- the grass will be like this always."
Beyond the condition of the field, fans continue to respond with interest 11 years after the Fusion's failure.
The friendly between Mexico and Colombia and the exhibition with Lionel Messi and his friends also filled the stands, despite the fact the climate did not cooperate for the second of these games.
In the past it wasn't meant to be, but the story seems different now.
Miami is hungry for soccer and the game between AC Milan and Chelsea was proof positive of this.
Nearly 60,000 tickets were sold, and the expectation for soccer seems to be at an all-time high.
"Miami is an ideal city for this type of event," Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said. "Besides those who live in South Florida, we mustn't forget that many Americans come down to Miami during this time of year, and seize the opportunity to enjoy events such as this one."
Amid so much commotion, rumors have arisen that the MLS could return to Miami; the league is seeking a city for its 20th franchise, and Miami is being cited more and more.
Will SunLife Stadium be the home for that team if negotiations are sealed?
"We don't know anything about it," Dee said. "We have not spoken with the MLS. What I can assure you is that we have every intention of continuing to bring the best teams in the world for friendlies in the future."
Clearly people have responded better with star players present than they have for an MLS team.
For that very reason, it isn't clear if a local soccer franchise would be successful in South Florida.
Time will tell, but judging by the most recent games, Miami is more prepared than ever to become a soccer hotbed once again.
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