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Standing still, it seems, would be as foolish for MLS as reintroducing shootouts to decide drawn games. Expansion will be coming again, and soon. The success of Toronto and the excitement in Seattle, San Jose and Philadelphia over their teams — all awarded in the last year — has wetted appetites elsewhere.
Today we’ll look at Miami, and follow-up in the coming days by considering St Louis, New York City, and the Canadian candidates.
You can’t consider Florida and MLS without noting that two previous franchises there have failed. In 2001, the Miami Fusion folded in their fourth year of attendance, and it was a bitter, bitter end for all involved: the club achieved its highest average attendance that season (11,177) and finished first in the Eastern Conference. Coached by Ray Hudson — yes, that Ray Hudson — they dominated the league before falling to the San Jose Earthquakes in the semi-finals of the playoffs. But four months later, the league leaking money like nobody’s business, Miami ceased to exist.
A Miami Herald writer recently recalled that sorry end:
Average attendance rose from 7,460 in 2000 to 11,177 in 2001, which is way more than the Marlins and Heat get on some nights. There was a real energy at Lockhart that season, a feeling like this was the start of something special. And then, just when things were getting really fun, the team folded. Not enough fans. Not enough money. The Fusion died at age 4.
So whilst the Fusion did fail, it is worth remembering that they were getting somewhere.
Miami played in Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, some way out from Miami itself (almost 30 miles). The situation would be different this time. The City of Miami is looking to fund new soccer and baseball stadiums on the site of the old Orange Bowl. The former would cost $100 million and seat 25,000 and be located just a mile from downtown. Ironically, it was at the Orange Bowl that Miami were first set to play back in 1997 — the collapse of that damaged the team initially
There’s a lot of talk that Miami is not a “soccer” city, as much of its immigrant population and transient tourist based economy doesn’t match the profile of your typical soccer fan. But let’s be honest: if Columbus can support an MLS team, surely Miami can too. Moreover, the demographic profile of Miami has changed since 2001, with more traditionally soccer-orientated immigrants moving in.
Some local supporters are, in the vein of the Sons of Ben, taking matters into their own hands. MiamiSoccerFan.com is selling t-shirts, running a petition, and connecting with people via Facebook. At the moment they seem to be around the size of the Sons of Ben twelve months ago. As whispers of MLS in Miami grow, perhaps they can get some of that same momentum and give a big push to the effort. As their site says, “It is time to wage war! We need to attack all media markets. Radio, newspapers, television, internet and MLS Headquarters need to hear about our passion and desire for an MLS team in Miami.”
What’s less clear about Miami is where the financial backing is coming from. It seems that USL side Miami FC have talked to MLS, but whether they have connections to the deep pockets needed to get into MLS these days is unclear. With MLS now demanding over $30 million upfront just to join the league, Miami will need to find some serious investors. There have also been rumours of Boca Juniors starting a team there, but that seems somewhat far-fetched.
If Miami can get investors involved, and the Mayor backs a stadium effort, MLS would probably jump at the chance to establish themselves down south again in a heartbeat. Would it be the right decision? It’s a lot easier to launch an MLS team now than it was over ten years ago. The league is established and media attention greater. Soccer has grown. If it can’t succeed in Miami now, it’s not as strong as we think. What are your thoughts on Miami’s candidacy?