If David Beckham Can Create a Soccer Legacy in Miami, It’ll Be One Of His Greatest Achievements
Someone once said that “the great thing about Miami is that it’s so close to the United States.” While that can be taken to mean a number of things, it is clear that Miami is a different sort of place. Anyone who has strolled Coconut Grove’s salsa and perfume-laced sidewalks on a Friday night, felt the Atlantic breezes saunter across Ocean Drive’s Art Deco strip, or even driven the desolate stretch of Old Card Sound Road before entering the Florida Keys, knows. Don’t get me wrong. Other places have the magic too; Miami does not own it outright. But this city – this wet, hot, sexy, hostile, superficial, unfettered sponge of a city – unquestionably has it.
So, what does all of this have to do with David Beckham and his shiny new Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise in Miami? Well, to be honest, it is a challenging question but one that Beckham and his MLS ownership group have undoubtedly thought over long and hard. Despite the fact that Beckham’s group is likely well-aware of the fickle South Florida professional sports market, I imagine that they are brimming with enthusiasm. After all, Beckham was able to buy into MLS at a cut-rate price ($25 million) and on paper, at least, Miami’s professional soccer potential looks, just as it always has, to be quite bountiful.
As Ray Hudson, former coach of the Miami Fusion, who is as well versed as anyone in the vagaries of the South Florida soccer market, recently noted in a MLS Soccer article by Simon Borg, when it comes to professional soccer in Miami, “everything looks as if it’s just so and just right.” Miami has always appeared to be a natural place for professional soccer to flourish – the gateway to Latin America, diverse immigrant communities, cooperative weather, large youth soccer interest, and an attractive destination for quality foreign players.
However, if the area’s professional soccer past is any indication, Beckham’s MLS gamble is just that. Each time professional soccer has attempted to lay down South Florida roots, the enticing vision eventually fades into a chimeric mirage. South Florida’s professional soccer cemetery is home to tombstones that read Miami Gatos, Miami Toros, Miami Freedom, Miami Sharks, and Miami Fusion. The Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, once bolstered by the likes of Gordon Banks, Teofilo Cubillas, Gerd Muller, and George Best, now play in the NASL, the second-tier of the American league system, in front of home crowds that averaged a little over 4,000 in 2013. As Hudson aptly puts it, “the allure of Miami is like the call of the sirens.” If Beckham’s MLS plans go awry, he would hardly be the first, or the last, whose voyage ran aground on Miami’s shoals of broken soccer dreams.
In a February 2014 New York Daily News article by Justin Tasch and Christian Red, former Miami Fusion owner Ken Horowitz lamented over the sad, last days of the Miami franchise in the early 2000s. In spite of the team’s efforts on the field, game-days increasingly saw Lockhart Stadium’s “parking lot with so few cars, and so many empty seats.” These final days were a far cry from the 1998 season home-debut of the Fusion against DC United in front of over 20,000 spectators. Horowitz noted that despite pushing $50 million into the Fusion, it was a constant struggle to find and retain sponsorship investment as fan support for the franchise waned. By the end of the 2001 season, the Fusion boasted the league’s lowest season ticket sales and lowest sponsorship revenues. Horowitz’s Fusion were not the only MLS project to whither in the Florida sun in early 2002 – on the very same day the MLS also contracted the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
There was much wrong with the Miami Fusion, not the least of which was playing in a fairly decrepit industrial-lot Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale. However, for many that wanted to see professional soccer finally succeed in South Florida and who had become fans of Hudson’s “band of brothers,” the Fusion’s demise was disappointing, if not altogether shocking. As Hudson reflected in a 2003 Sun Sentinel article by Jeff Rusnak, “there’s this ghost in the back row and it ain’t ever going to go away. It’s the same for the players and fans in South Florida, and we are all haunted by that. Sometimes you can be accused of crying in your beer, but the set of circumstances we left on was beyond brutal. It was absolutely heartbreaking to lose the Fusion and I can never get past that.”
Beckham and his team of advisers and stadium architects are not dummies. His recent presentation of plans for a possible PortMiami stadium made it clear that he intends to “go big.” The unveiling demonstrated that Beckham’s group know that for MLS to have a fighting chance in the unreliable South Florida sports market this effort better be different than previous professional soccer attempts and it better be sexy. The roll out was bursting with aesthetic stimulation – an artist’s rendition of a sweeping 20-35,000 capacity open-aired stadium concept with views of Biscayne Bay and Miami’s dazzling downtown skyline. Rumors swirled about plans to develop land adjacent to the stadium with bars and hangouts to inspire a European-esque “march to the match.”
From the get-go, however, the port stadium proposal was probably a reach. Richard Fain, Chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., pointed out that constructing a soccer stadium at PortMiami would have significant negative implications for the cargo and cruise hub’s role in Miami-Dade’s economy. Discussions between Beckham’s group and the Seaport Alliance – the Royal Caribbean Cruises led alliance against building a stadium at PortMiami – rapidly grew toxic. As reported by Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald, John Fox, a lobbyist for Royal Caribbean who heads the alliance, dismissed the idea that the Miami franchise even deserves such a prime parcel of Florida real estate, when he jibed that the MLS “is not World Cup soccer. It’s not FIFA soccer, it’s usually on ESPN4.”
Last week, as was expected by most in South Florida, Miami-Dade County commissioners removed the PortMiami location from contention voting 11-1 against the port-stadium proposal. Beckham’s group is now forced to turn its attention elsewhere. Both Florida International University’s stadium and land adjacent to Marlins Park in Little Havana have been discussed as potential options. Sun Life Stadium may have been considered early on in the process but it has the allure and charm of a Meat Loaf concert. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently proposed that Beckham’s group consider an alternative waterfront area – a large boat slip that is nestled between Museum Park and American Airlines Arena.
The stadium issue is just one of the challenges facing Beckham’s Miami group. Even more daunting is the great soccer-conundrum that looms over South Florida, which will test the Miami franchise much more profoundly than settling on a stadium venue. Why has professional soccer struggled in a region heavily populated by immigrants from soccer-crazed lands and where the sport, at the grassroots level, is robustly healthy? Indeed, the question is eerily similar to that which perplexes Major League Baseball – why have the Miami Marlins languished with years of poor attendance despite being located in an area that is largely defined by a supposedly “baseball-mad” Cuban community? According to ESPN, the Marlins are ranked 25th in average attendance (21,596 per game) in MLB so far in 2014. There is probably as much of a chance that I know someone who is related to Kevin Bacon as there is that I know someone who actually goes to Miami Marlin’s games.
The most common analysis of the intractable South Florida soccer-puzzle propagates the narrative that Miami’s robust entertainment options are to blame for soccer’s previous failures. This same discourse is often conjured when the South Florida sports punditry discuss attendance issues faced by the area’s other sports franchises. The conventional wisdom maintains that the myriad of ways to enjoy oneself in South Florida – the beach, the fishing, the golf, the nightlife, the clubs, the cuisine, to name a few – allows consumers to simply choose other activities in lieu of a mediocre professional sports product.
Having a multitude of entertainment options may spread people’s disposable income thin, especially during the belt-tightening economic climate of recent years. However, the idea that South Floridians eschew professional sports solely because “there is so much to do here” is a folkloric narrative. We South Floridians are notoriously guilty of espousing the masturbatory storyline that life here is reminiscent of the effervescent and mystical Shangri-La found in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon. To this day, you can still hear a collective grunt of contempt amongst many South Floridians over the fact that former Miami Dolphin’s emperor, Nicholas Lou Saban the Junior, had the gall to leave our tropical paradise. For many South Floridians it is inconceivable that someone may favor a place that, in their minds at least, is a hillbilly-infested hinterland teeming with incestuous-coitus and a thriving beaver-pelt trade called Tuscaloosa.
Notwithstanding our penchant to sometimes portray anyone that prefers life far away from South Florida as a syphilitic troglodyte, there is just as much, if not quite a bit more, to do in cities whose soccer franchises are doing just fine. Residents of London, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, Berlin, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Bogota, Athens, Tokyo, Vienna, Mexico City, Seattle, etc., are not catatonically sitting on their futons cupping their testicles incuriously waiting for the next soccer match. Well, they probably are in Seattle but that has little to do with boredom. Yes, Miami is a world class city with world class entertainment options, but that does not prevent professional soccer from flourishing in hundreds of places across the globe with equally eclectic entertainment menus. No, Miami’s thriving mélange is, at most, only partially responsible for professional soccer’s historical disillusionment in the area.
While you would never know by listening to South Florida AM sports radio, which usually displays the topical adroitness found at a Hallandale Beach shuffleboard game, the fact is that many in South Florida love soccer. Examples of this passion are abundant. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale television market, for instance, has historically ranked number one in the United States for watching the World Cup. Astoundingly, these rankings do not even factor in the area’s Spanish language broadcasts. The August 2013 International Champions Cup final between Real Madrid and Chelsea brought more than 67,000 people to Miami’s Sun Life Stadium. FC Barcelona recently announced plans to open a youth soccer academy in Ft. Lauderdale. Still, these types of anecdotal harbingers of soccer’s relative enormity in South Florida, while meaningful, are not nearly as convincing as is the area’s grassroots soccer vitality.
Take a drive up I-95 or the Florida Turnpike from Dade through Broward to Palm Beach counties any evening just before sunset. You will see the magnitude of South Florida’s enthusiasm for the “beautiful game.” Fields, up and down the corridor, even if lined for American football or baseball, are often occupied by people playing soccer. Sometimes the grounds are golf-course immaculate with goals weaved with crisp nylon netting. More often, groups of 6, or 15, or what seems like 137 have formed two teams running up and down pockmarked spaces attempting to slot home a winner between goal posts fabricated with sweaty t-shirts, book bags, or empty Gatorade bottles. Grassroots soccer in South Florida is a wet-dream for FIFA’s socially conscious agenda. Haitians, Brazilians, Colombians, Romanians, Israelis, Hondurans, Iranians, Mexicans, Peruvians, Russians, British, Jamaicans, you name it, they are here playing soccer.
The cultural footballing stereotypes are rarely subtle at these nightly contests. The lightning fast Haitians, with horrid first-touches, fly around “up top” trying to latch on to any wayward through ball. The Central and South American players eventually congregate in the middle of the pitch with dreams of directing the game by summoning their inner Carlos Valderrama sans the fantastic blond afro. The few American gringos often gravitate to the back-third to form disciplined defensive lines due to early fatigue and because their only chance at slowing the Haitians is to catch them offside. The Jamaicans put in casually aloof but effective performances as box-to-box midfielders cleaning up all the failed dribbles of the South Americans. The British ex-pats replete with anchor tattoos, nicotine-stained fingers, and brightly flushed faces, take no guff from anyone and often carry on about how no one is playing the game properly. And of course there is always an overly zealous type, usually hailing from somewhere in Eastern Europe, who absolutely must come flying in “studs-up” on every single meaningless challenge. It does not always play out like this, but it often does.
Admittedly, I am biased having grown up in South Florida in the 1980s and 1990s; but, these multiethnic, multilingual, multi-socioeconomic nightly soccer pilgrimages were a powerful introduction to the human tapestry. They were a firsthand account of the spiritual-like passion that many here, from all walks of life, share for the game. And it was no-sh*t soccer – Miami’s version of Rucker Park in Harlem. Bone crunching fouls and clumsy tackles inevitably gave way to incessant insults between two people yelling at each other in distant languages that they had both put their penor into the other’s mother the night before. Sometimes blood really boiled. I remember one night under the lights at Miami’s Tropical Park just off of the Palmetto Expressway where some rather intense young man from the islands stormed off the field to retrieve a machete from his Adidas bag. He proceeded to chase all of us around the parking lot threatening to “chop us up” for not passing him the ball. Despite FIFA’s “one ball, one world” ethos, these all-inclusive nightly games often engendered the worst of humanity.
Like anything in life, however, it wasn’t all bad. I recall as if it were yesterday how enamored I was with a particularly rugged defensive midfielder-type one afternoon in the early 1990s at the University of Miami’s Greentree practice field. The surly hardman was tightly wound, a bit stiff, fit beyond comprehension, with a thick Jamaican accent. But the thing that stood out to me, at the time, was that he was white. Up until that moment, I did not know there was such a thing as a white Jamaican. It was a simple lesson in globalization – a far more powerful one than any Thomas Friedman book. Picture Spain’s Xabi Alonso with abundant matted dreads yelling at me in the voice of Buju Banton to “step inna it mon” and “pass di ball mon.” As darkness fell and the numbers of players thinned I remember the stout pigment-less Jamaican field general order what was left of us over to his cooler because it was “time to nyam some jerk fowl mon.” There was no ice, no portable stove, just a cooler that had sat in the balmy Florida air for 2 or 3 hours. It was filled with portions of jerk chicken wrapped in crumpled aluminum foil. It was delicious. The best jerk I had ever had or have ever had since. It must have been grilled over pimento wood, slathered in soy sauce, scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, brown sugar, scallions, who knows. Perfect. As I sat there scarfing down the spoils of lasting to the end, even my adolescent mind knew this was quite cool. No, this was just Miami.
But what was also Miami was the absolute fact that these same characters that comprised this diverse and energetic soccer mosaic had little, if any, interest in supporting a local professional soccer team. A few did of course, but the vast majority did not. And it was not simply due to the fact that going to a professional soccer match was economically untenable. To be sure, many of those that are a part of South Florida’s grassroots soccer scene are less than well-off – newly arrived working class immigrants or foreign students making ends meet as landscapers, waiters, construction workers, airport baggage handlers, or cab drivers. However, Horrowitz’s Miami Fusion, for instance, made considerable effort to make the game day experience quite affordable. While I am in no position to tell someone else’s family what is, or is not, reasonably priced, professional soccer in South Florida has often cost slightly more than some Friday night high-school football games in the area.
Again, just as does the “too much to do in South Florida,” the “too expensive” suggestion also rings hollow. No, something more embryonic, something weightier confronts Beckham’s Miami MLS hopes. Soccer in South Florida is, and always has been, tribal. One of the predicaments traditionally faced by South Florida professional soccer efforts has been the inability to foment sustained support from the area’s ethnic enclaves. And therein lies the rub – can Beckham harness a diverse community’s love for soccer, but whose love for the game has historically been tethered to distant homelands and far away clubs? How can Beckam and MLS invigorate those same people who play the nightly pickup games across South Florida to care about a newly emerging Miami franchise?
Tommy Mulroy, President of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, which makes him less than a perfectly impartial bystander to Beckham’s MLS endeavor, touched upon this issue in a recent article by the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson. Commenting in regard to the 71,000 fans that a November 2013 Brazil-Honduras friendly drew to Sun Life Stadium, Mulroy asserted that such massive interest is not translatable to MLS in that those fans were “coming to watch a flag.” As Mulroy noted, “To translate a guy that watches the World Cup to a guy who’s going to come to an MLS game against Columbus on a Wednesday night isn’t the same.” In the same article, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez echoed Mulroy’s sentiments, admitting that, “I don’t think it will be successful. You have a lot of people who love soccer here, but a lot of them feel passion for their home country team.”
Simply rolling out another version of “these peoples’” favorite sport will not be enough. Due to the intense love for the game already alive in South Florida, most in Miami’s ethnic soccer communities have long since established their allegiances and proclivities for professional soccer club teams. And I get it – it is fundamentally the same reason, that despite being an avid American football fan, I had little interest in the “hometown team” when I lived in Pittsburgh, Tampa, Denver, or Washington, DC. Even if following the Miami Dolphins was often difficult, following MY team on choppy internet radio or incessantly-buffering prohibited video streams was a lot more tenable than becoming a Steelers or Redskins fan. The reason is simple. For many, being a fan of a team has a lot more do to with their history than it does merely enjoying sporting competition. A connection one feels with a team is largely about remembering who you are, and where you come from. Soccer, for many of South Florida’s immigrants, is as much a cultural embodiment as say music or cuisine. Brazilians or Colombians or Argentinians in South Florida root for Corinthians, Millonarios, or River Plate, for the same reason they listen to samba, make ajiaco stew, or sip on rich cortados. These distant soccer clubs represent one type of connection to faraway loved ones and distant homelands. Soccer of the homeland, like any thread of culture, wards off the steeping existential crisis that resides in all of us by reinforcing the continuity in one’s life history. Even if Joaquin Phoenix’s Operating System lover, Samantha, was correct when it bemused that the past is just a story we tell ourselves, soccer, for many around the world, is unabashedly part of that story.
Don’t get me wrong, that same ethnic mishmash that defines South Florida is, like it always has been, being counted on as a profitable source of revenue and support for the Miami franchise. MLS Commissioner Don Garber suggests that one of the principal reasons that Miami is ready to support an MLS venture is that the city has changed the last decade since the Fusion folded in 2002. As Garber surmises in Tasch and Red’s 2014 New York Daily News article, “The city (of Miami) is so much different. At that point (when the Fusion folded) much of the real explosion of diversity had not yet happened, and now (Miami) is filled with people from Argentina and Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Honduras — soccer-loving countries.” This is one of those sound-bites that sounds great, and runs very well in print media, but when examined more closely reflects exactly what Ray Hudson meant when he said that many with South Florida soccer dreams have fallen victim to the “call of the sirens.”
Although I am not armed with sound quantitative demographic data, I would, of course, agree with Mr. Garber that Miami, over the last decade, has become even more international in character – and that transplants from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, etc. continue to flock to South Florida. However, the notion that in the last decade these new international arrivals have somehow dramatically changed the soccer dynamic in the area is a bit spurious. Miami has long been home to both established and newly arriving émigrés from across soccer loving countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. While a completely anecdotal example, my high school team from Dade County (shameless plug coming),which won the Florida State Championship in 1992, was comprised of first or second generation kids from Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Haiti, Jamaica, and Spain. The point being, it remains unclear how these newer arrivals from soccer-crazed nations are any different than previous arrivals from soccer-crazed nations who have never really supported professional soccer efforts in South Florida.
In addition to the romantic ties that many maintain for the club or league of their homeland, Beckham’s group will also need to convince South Florida soccer fans that MLS soccer is not substandard. This was the original dilemma for the Miami Fusion. The club simply did not persuade enough of the 20,000 onlookers that turned out for the club’s first home game that what they were watching was professional quality soccer. Those of us who grew up around the game in South Florida understand that for many in the area, especially for the Latin community, MLS represents a second-rate, technically void league which relies on speed and brutish athleticism and does not display the characteristics that they identify most with the game – verve, flair, artistic wizardry, technical je ne sais quoi, etc. MLS is, in the eyes of many here, an amateurish brand of soccer played by recent letterman from “soccer academies” such as Creighton College, Dartmouth, and UCLA. Simply put, many see the MLS as a league for those that are not gifted enough to make it elsewhere. The fact that four of America’s most highly regarded players – Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore – have all either returned to MLS after unceremonious stints at foreign clubs or, in the case of Altidore, been relegated to a fringe squad player has done little to assuage the perception that MLS remains a safe haven for those with two left feet.
The stereotype will be hard to overcome, especially here in South Florida. I have watched soccer matches of all levels across most of this country but, I assure you, few venues brim with as much pomposity as does almost any soccer match in South Florida. Whether sitting at an under-12 AYSO game in West Kendall, a high school game in Broward, or a professional or international friendly at Sun Life Stadium, you will leave thinking everyone, and I mean everyone, sitting around you was a product of Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy. Even at Miami Fusion games it did not take long for your bleacher-mates to convince you that you were watching soccer that was slightly below the level of the Liechtenstein First Division.
To be sure, many of these onlookers are not really comparing MLS soccer to whatever relatively small local domestic league or club that they maintain a personal kinship with, but rather to the world’s glamour clubs and leagues. And let us be honest, it has never been easier to follow the greatest players in the world’s greatest leagues than it is today on television or the internet. Even on American TV, once a soccer-coverage wasteland, one can now find with minimal financial sacrifice coverage of the British Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga, Eredevisie, and Liga MX.
There is little argument from any reasonable soccer fan that MLS clubs are not in the same stratosphere as the Bayern Munichs, Barcelonas, Real Madrids, or Manchester Uniteds of the world. However, it is absurd to think that MLS does not compare favorably to leagues such as Jamaica’s National Premier League, Liga Nacional in Honduras, or Bolivia’s Liga de Futbol Profesional. While the room for debate over such rankings is vast, Soccer Intelligence attempted to quantify the quality of leagues around the world using such variables as attendance, finances, player quality, goals, and stadiums. The 2013 study ranked MLS as the 7th best league in the world, behind only the professional leagues of Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and Mexico. Assuredly, my initial reaction was that there is no way MLS should be ranked ahead of leagues in Argentina, Portugal, France, and Holland. But I had to admit that my perceptions of these leagues were likely distorted because I immediately associate them with the likes of Ajax, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, PSG, or Boca Juniors – all flagship clubs in their respective leagues. Teams in the middle to lower tiers of these leagues’ tables would, in no way, throttle similarly ranked MLS teams.
Nevertheless, since perception is often reality, one of Beckham’s largest tasks in South Florida will be to raise the entire image and profile of the league. He may never be able to fully co-opt a middle-aged Mexican whose love for the sport flourished with his grandfather in the late 1970s while watching Hugo Sanchez dazzle for Mexico City’s Pumas, but he may be able to build a team that undergirds the notion that MLS is a well-regarded professional soccer league. Convincing the somewhat elitist South Florida soccer community, however, will be no easy task. Dave Barry, the longtime Miami Herald writer, put it best in Simon Borg’s article, when he noted that “We’re not Seattle, Portland and Columbus. Miami doesn’t have the kind of fans that go root for a team because it’s the Miami team. We go to watch because they’re big-time and we see them as stars and special. He’s (Beckham) got to create that feel around the team.” Barry is right. Miami’s soccer-savvy community will simply need a lot more convincing than did the ingénues that now flock to MLS matches in the Pacific Northwest or other locales.
The good news is that the opinion that MLS is a little-sister-of-the-poor league still defined by hoof-and-chase tactics is rooted in far less reality than it was during the Miami Fusion days. Beckham’s Miami squad will assuredly not be built around the likes of the frustratingly enigmatic Diego Serna, the petulant Roy Lassiter, the local onetime wonder-kid Nelson Vargas, a seemingly pre-pubescent Kyle Beckerman, the token Englishman Ian Bishop, the hard working Minnesota boy Jay Heaps, and the sublime but tired legend Carlos Valderrama. I fully anticipate Beckham’s Miami franchise to eventually set-the-bar for attracting top-shelf foreign and domestic talent in MLS. I doubt that a guy like Beckham, who is every bit a global icon at this point, is in the MLS business to simply sprinkle a roster with guys who last played at Clemson or Duke with a few over-the-hill decrepit stars of yesteryear who belong in the English pub league.
Regardless of who ends up on Miami’s roster in 2017, I have waited for this day for a long time – to be able to feel a connection to a soccer team. I have, to be honest, always felt a little envious of those who grew up in an environment where their passion for a side was chosen upon conception. If you grew up Roman Catholic or Protestant in Glasgow it was pretty clear what side of the Old Firm you would root for. Similarly, someone from a working class family on Madrid’s south side in all likelihood would become an Atletico fan and cringe at the majestic aristocracy that characterizes Real Madrid. As a soccer fan from South Florida no such kinship for a side was ever possible. The Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and Miami Toros’ heyday came before me, the Miami Sharks lasted a few minutes, and the Miami Fusion came and went.
Adding to the difficulty, I could never really bring myself to “choose a club.” Don’t misunderstand me; I think it is fantastic that a new wave of American fans have been skimming articles, perusing online forums, and even taking psychological batteries to identify what team in the Premiership would fit best with their personal psychosis. For what it is worth, I was identified as most suited to root for Blackburn, which, by the way, are not even in the Premiership as they were relegated in May 2012. At first I cringed at the matchmaking ticket I drew but I have since learned, that during Blackburn and Wigan’s relegation battle a Blackburn cape-wearing chicken was released onto the pitch. At this point, Blackburn supporters began to sing “We’re only here for the chicken!” Upon learning this, my faith in any type of psychological testing was immediately solidified as I knew if I ever made it to Blackburn’s Ewood Park I would fit right in with those who were primarily there to support “the Chicken.”
Not all side-choosing has gone as smoothly as mine however. Prior to this year’s BPL season, I had to endure a work colleague proclaim for weeks that he had settled on rooting for Liverpool and Manchester United. The egregiousness of such a declaration just about made me want to call the machete-wielding chap from Tropical Park. I certainly do not know everything there is to know about the world but I do know two things: 1) “one does not simply walk into Mordor” and 2) one does not root for Liverpool and Manchester United in the same lifetime. If you root for one and do not despise the other, you are quite simply doing it wrong. In any event, the whole choosing a team that I had no personal, familial, or historical connection to felt somewhat contrived.
But despite my zeal to finally wear a jersey or kiss a badge – ok, I am too self-absorbed and cynical for anything like that but still – I remain skeptical of this great Beckham-MLS-Miami venture. See, Miami remains a mercurial place and if there is anything that binds us here it is that we are an erratic lot. Nothing here is a sure thing – not love, not fortunes, not the weather, not buying a gallon of milk without getting into a gun fight, and definitely not a handsome squinty-eyed blond bloke from the London suburbs succeeding to rewrite South Florida’s professional soccer script. However, despite my longing for a club to call my own and my sincere hope that Beckham succeeds where many others have failed, I have come to realize, that how it plays out is really rather trivial. I do not mean that in a nihilistic sense, but instead that no matter how it unfolds, no matter how it goes down, South Florida’s soccer tapestry will continue to be spun and the beautiful game will breathe here like few other places in the United States.
See, across every square of vacant grass from Homestead to Palm Beach, the South Americans will still dance poetically with the ball, a Brit will doggedly get stuck-in as if the Queen were watching, the Jamaicans will still tidy up the deep midfield and make a good jerk fowl, the Haitians’ pace will stretch defenses silly, an Eastern European will still commit a half dozen red card challenges before the first corner kick is awarded, a heavyset gringo like myself will find a moment of cardiovascular respite by signaling for a fraudulent offside, and the rhythms of Miami’s soccer drum will continue to drift across the Everglades as the sun sets to the west. And that is pretty cool.
No, that is just Miami.