David Beckham's Miami MLS franchise plan finally a reality after four years
To say that MLS and American soccer have changed since David Beckham launched his quest to bring the league back to South Florida would be a bit of an understatement.
Four years is a long time. Back in 2014, when Beckham announced his intention to exercise the famous contract option that gave him a discount buy-in to Major League Soccer, the league was still short of 20 teams. Orlando City and New York City FC were still a year away from taking the field. San Jose had yet to open Avaya Stadium.
Chivas USA still existed. Atlanta United was hardly a glimmer in Arthur Blank's eye.
And that's just a few of the more obvious differences. Over the course of the protracted struggle to lock down a stadium site in Miami, MLS also made a host of other changes to its roster and spending rules. The addition of Jorge and Jose Mas as investors speaks to the need for deeper pockets as MLS ramps up the investment needed to compete for championships.
Back when the process started, in the halcyonic glow of excitement over a world-famous name bringing MLS to one of the country's most glamorous locales, the rumor mill spun up quickly. Beckham's fame and connections to some of Europe's biggest clubs naturally launched speculation that the Englishman would leverage those relationships to capture talent for his new endeavor. Most of Europe's elite vacationed in Miami anyway, so it only made sense that some of them would sign up with Beckham to see out their careers playing a little soccer and lounging on South Beach.
It took less than a week for Cristiano Ronaldo to be connected to Beckham's Miami team. Various outlets reported that Beckham and his team targeted the Real Madrid star for a move to Miami in "three years' time." Never mind that the new project had no start date, no name and no idea where it would eventually play.
It's a good thing Ronaldo didn't agree to join the Miami MLS team three years on from the announcement. He'd have arrived in Miami a year before the team even existed.
Before reality set, Beckham himself spoke about the messages he was getting from his famous soccer-playing mates. "Who wouldn't want to play in Miami, live in Miami," he said, talking about the recruitment process. The frenzied media, especially in England, had a field day attaching names to Beckham and his future Miami club.
Those possibilities probably played a role in keeping the dream alive for Beckham and Miami, despite the snail's pace of progress. It was obvious from the beginning that, Beckham contract franchise option or not, Don Garber and MLS coveted a return to the South Florida market with the power of Beckham's brand behind it.
The power of Beckham's brand didn't do much for the nascent club's attempts at getting a stadium site secured. Monday's announcement is possible because the group finally managed to secure land in the city for a stadium. But Overtown was not their first choice, and the very public failure of two other sites eroded all that early positivity.
The first swing-and-miss happened at PortMiami, an area that sits at the west end of Dodge Island, between downtown Miami and Miami Beach. The group released renderings, stumped for support and fought bitterly with the cruise ship industry. The first sign of the travails to come, the PortMiami failure slowed momentum and provided fodder for skeptics who doubted Miami's ability to support top-level soccer.
After the Dodge Island debacle, Beckham & Co. moved on to a waterfront location adjacent to American Airlines Area at Museum Park. The plan called for filling in a boat slip, a gargantuan task that scared off several community leaders. The plan came and went by the end of June 2014.
All of the trouble finding a place to build a stadium actually turned Beckham into an underdog. Many wrote off the idea of MLS in Miami as early as 2015, when city officials began to push the group in the direction of the Little Havana neighborhood, home to Marlins Park. The league flatly rejected the idea, and with seemingly little enthusiasm, Beckham's group meandered through a fruitless attempt to secure land from private owners.
Had this been baseball and not soccer, it might have been three-strikes-and-you're-out for Beckham. Instead, the group entered extra time and landed on a site in the Overtown neighborhood of the city. After initially contracting to buy plots for the footprint in December of 2015, the group needed another two years before the process was complete.
In the meantime, Orlando planned and completed its new purpose-built venue. D.C. United bucked the odds and enacted a plan to get out of RFK Stadium. LAFC was created, given a launch date, started construction on a stadium, built a brand and signed players.
The league's progression is obviously connected to expansion, but what Beckham's team faces thanks to its delayed arrival is more about meeting raised expectations. Miami will launch into an MLS that is changing rapidly. Arthur Blank's investment in Atlanta United and the massive crowds the club drew in its first year mean the bar for success as an expansion team has changed. There's no right way to build as a new team, but the combination of Beckham's fame and Miami's Latin character and glamorous reputation means a methodical approach won't be good enough.
Perhaps Beckham can call on Ronaldo or one of his other soccer super friends, even after four years and many moments when it looked like they'd never get a chance to play in Miami. Signing some of Europe's biggest names could be at the heart of a bid to strike a chord with South Florida's notoriously fickle fan base.
It's just a small problem that they'll be just a little bit older than originally planned when Miami's MLS team finally hits the field.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.