Soccer brings people together around the world unlike any other sport.
I grew up in England playing it for fun. Since I was young, I found the game gave me something in common with people from different places. When talking to someone from Holland or Argentina, it helped to break down the language barrier and learn about different cultures.
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to Ronaldo or Messi.
In Miami, sitting in Churchill’s or Fado’s watching a game, you might not know anything about the person next to you. But after a couple pints and shouts at the ref on the TV screen, you could be getting invited to their next baby shower.
So what does this have to do with a soccer team in Miami?
Ten years ago, South Florida had its first Major League Soccer team, the Miami Fusion based in Fort Lauderdale. The team struggled with attendance throughout their four seasons and folded in 2001.
Patricia Kawaja, who writes for the Union Jack newspaper remembers: “I used to live in Fort Lauderdale when they had the Fusion in the ‘90s. It was a disaster. The stadium was falling apart, they had no marketing plan.”
Times have changed since the Fusion. Miami has grown as a city in the last decade with a population of more than 2.5 million. So has the MLS, with an increase of talent in the league and attendance averaging more than 18,000 last season -- up 25 percent from 2001. The possibility of a new, dedicated stadium in the heart of the city and the star power of David Beckham present a different opportunity.
“You have 18,000 resident Latin soccer mad fans on Brickell alone that could fill the stadium,” says Kawaja. “Never mind the French, Germans, and English.”
Miami is a city separated by highways and neighborhoods. You’ve got Little Haiti, Little Havana and Little Odessa in Sunny Isles. Outside of areas like South Beach and downtown, it’s pretty divided along racial lines. While a soccer team is not going to change where people live, it could help bring people together that share a love for the game.
Twice a week, I play with a group of friends in the Biscayne Bay soccer league. Spanish is the main language on the field outside of English, but we’ve lost count of the places where people are from. Bolivia, Bristol, Syria -- it goes on. Gabriel Koch, who organizes the Biscayne league feels “Miami has a lot of soccer fans, but nothing that unifies it. With a new team and star power people would get behind it.”
Gabriel grew up in Missouri to a family of German & Italian immigrants. His introduction to the sport began at a young age and goes back through his family. The goalkeeper for the 1950 U.S. World Cup team chauffeured his grandparents to their wedding.
Traditionally, soccer fans have deep roots going back generations in supporting their teams. Game days are holidays, supporter groups dedicate themselves to following their sides from country to country. While Miami only had the Fusion for a brief period, many fans who live here and have been brought up with the beautiful sport are waiting for a return.
“The way people support teams is more intense in South America. That’s going to be the kind of fans that are going to show up in Miami,” says Parisian Adrian Douzmanian.
Combining this passion with the demographic in Miami could result in a unique, devoted fan base. Owner David Beckham, who has played for top teams in Italy, France, Spain, England and the U.S. knows this: “We want to create a soccer team, a football club that is the people’s football club. I know this city is ready.”