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Beckham's MLS expansion bid group restructured at 11th hour - sources

MLS Commissioner Don Garber sits down with Taylor Twellman for a comprehensive conversation about the future of MLS.

David Beckham's investor group, one still hoping to land a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, has undergone a significant restructuring just days before a critical meeting of the MLS board of governors, sources have confirmed to ESPN FC.

Todd Boehly, who was set to be the majority partner for Beckham's group -- called Miami Beckham United -- is now no longer involved and has been replaced by local businessmen Jorge and Jose Mas, as well as Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son.

The news was first reported by the Miami Herald.

A Beckham spokesman declined comment, as did MLS.

Beckham's effort to acquire an MLS expansion team has been fraught with delays since it was first proposed back in February of 2014. As recently as last Friday MLS commissioner Don Garber told ESPN FC that MBU still needed "a solid ownership group -- one that hopefully could be very connected locally -- and a finalized stadium plan."

This came on the heels of comments from Tim Leiweke, who wondered aloud in a recent interview if the deal would get done.

The stadium plan appeared to be nearing completion when MBU agreed to purchase three acres from Miami-Dade County back in June. Combined with an adjoining six-acre parcel, MBU has secured the site it needed to build a stadium in Miami's Overtown neighborhood.

But local landowner Bruce Matheson filed a lawsuit alleging that the county violated the law by not opening up the sale to competitive bidding. A judge sided with the county back in October, but Matheson has appealed the ruling, resulting in a further delay. The City of Miami must also approve zoning changes for the site.

David Beckham has been pursuing a franchise in MLS since February of 2014.

Boehly was thought to be the last piece of the puzzle for the investment group when he was brought in last April. He and Beckham presented their plan to the Board of Governors in Chicago around the time of the MLS All-Star game in August, and initially it was well received.

"We're not announcing MLS Miami today, but I am confident we'll be able to do that, perhaps by the end of the summer," said Garber at the time.

But sources have told ESPN FC that the ownership structure proposed by Boehly, one that would see him have a clear majority stake in the venture, didn't sit well with MLS. There has been pushback among MLS owners over Beckham's discounted $25 million expansion fee, and the sight of Boehly becoming the majority owner gave the impression he was getting the franchise on the cheap when MLS is currently charging new expansion teams a fee of $150 million. The league also wanted a larger local presence.

The additions of the Mas brothers as well as Son appear to fit that requirement for the investment group. Jose Mas is the CEO of MasTec Inc., an engineering and construction firm whose headquarters are in nearby Coral Gables, Florida. His brother Jorge is the Chairman of the Board. Earlier this year the Mas brothers attempted to buy the Miami Marlins of Major League Baseball, but were beaten out by an investment group led by Derek Jeter.

Son has been brought in by another member of Beckham's investment group, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. According to Forbes, Son's net worth is $23 billion. Son also gives MLS a bigger conduit to the Asian market than what it currently has.

What has emerged is an ownership structure -- one that still includes Beckham and his business partner Simon Fuller -- where the stakes are more evenly spread out. Sources indicated that Leiweke's role with Beckham's group going forward is to be determined.

Sources have added that Beckham's group feels it has satisfied all of the league's requirements and the ongoing litigation with Matheson is not expected to be a deal breaker.

"The litigation slowed things down, but I don't believe the litigation will prevent us from being in Miami," said Garber.

The MLS board of governors is meeting in New York on Thursday where it will discuss the next round of expansion as well as Beckham's project.

It is now up to MLS to either grant Beckham a franchise or look elsewhere.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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