Today’s announcement by Major League Soccer that Miami will not be one of the expansion teams was yet another kick in the teeth for soccer aficionados in South Florida.
Consider the following facts:
- When Dolphin Stadium (then called Joe Robbie Stadium) was opened in 1987, it was purposefully designed with a wider than usual playing surface to accommodate soccer. It seemed a certainty that Miami would be one of the cities to host the 1994 World Cup. Instead, Orlando was selected and the matches were played at the woefully inadequate Citrus Bowl.
- Despite having the best record in MLS during the 2001 season, being one game away from the MLS Cup, and having its best year for attendances, the team was contracted by MLS.
- South Florida used to have a fairly regular schedule of friendlies involving national and club teams, but that has dissipated to a trickle of teams that play in the region. National and club teams such as Brazil, USA, Argentina, Germany, Colombia, Bayern Munich, Rangers and Mexico used to play in South Florida. Now, if we’re lucky, we get to see a handful of friendlies each year featuring B-level national teams such as Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and Chile.
Critics would argue that soccer has been given plenty of chances to succeed in South Florida, but I disagree. Soccer has been poorly marketed in the region time after time. And the moment when it seemed that an organization had finally put together a sound plan (i.e. Marcelo Claure and Barcelona), the rug was pulled out from under us due to the dire economic mess the world is in.
I hate to be a pessimist, but it’s unlikely that a Major League Soccer team will return to South Florida during my lifetime. The story of the Fusion and the failed attempt by Barcelona will deter businessmen from trying to bring a team to South Florida in the future. For many, it may be too big of a risk to take especially given the current economic meltdown.
Living in South Florida, I find it ridiculous that the nearest MLS team to me is exactly 1,000 miles away — DC United. That’s the same distance from London to Naples, Italy. And just imagine how many professional clubs can be found between those two cities. Let’s hope I’m wrong and that a MLS team will eventually return to this soccer hotbed. We deserve it down here.