Inter Miami CF managing owner Jorge Mas confirmed in a press conference Thursday that the team intends to play its first two Major League Soccer seasons at a stadium it would build at the current site of Lockhart Stadium.
It wasn’t easy, but after two efforts in front of the City of Miami Commission and a hard-fought campaign for the support of Miami voters, Inter Miami CF is one step closer to finally claiming a permanent home. Voters approved a change to the city’s charter that would allow the team and the city to negotiate on a no-bid contract to redevelop Melreese County Club into Miami Freedom Park.
The next step for Inter Miami CF is to negotiate with the City of Miami for terms of a lease. Four of the city’s five commissioners must agree on the terms before any development can move forward. Only three commissioners (Joe Carollo, Keon Hardemon and Ken Russell) supported the initiative in July.
The initiative passed easily, clearing the 60-percent threshold in the city. Perhaps even more critically, the initiative met or exceeded expectations in precincts located in the Grapeland Heights community where the project is expected to take place.
In just over a week, voters head to the polls in Miami. Regardless of the outcome on City of Miami Referendum 1 we know that David Beckham’s MLS franchise will be finally kicking off in 2020. Whether their permanent home is to be in Overtown or Melreese, Inter Miami CF will need a temporary home. Potential locations are already being looked at, but which option is best?
A stadium used primarily for college football at Florida Atlantic University. It’s been tossed around as a potential site by some as a way to forge links outside of Dade County early on. Let’s take a look.
Location – 1/10: It’s 50 miles away from the city of Miami. This is a huge issue. Since Mas and Beckham have teamed up they’ve got a lot of decisions right, you’d have to question the decision to take a temporary venue so far away from the final permanent home. This would be a real trek for anyone in South Miami or Kendall for example.
Transport links – 8/10: Just off the I-95 and actually not bad for public transit either. It’s a mile walk from Boca Raton’s Tri-Rail station.
Playing surface – 7/10: Nicely maintained natural grass. You’ve markings from other sports to contend with, but that’s an issue other venues will also face. Only downside is the operator doesn’t have much experience in transitioning the venue to accommodate soccer on anything other than a one-off basis.
Fan experience – 6/10: It’s designed for football and that always comes with the trade off of being quite far from the action on the field. It’s also completely open with no cover at all. The capacity is appropriate though. It can accommodate 29,419 people which would make it ideal for an MLS side. A full house would be a great atmosphere here.
Other tenants and issues – 5/10: FAU Stadium is used by two other teams. MLL’s Florida Launch and, of course, the Florida Atlantic Owls football team. Scheduling is never usually that hard if you’re sharing with one other team but sharing with two, even if they play at different times of the year, could throw up some headaches.
TOTAL 27/50: In another location it would really be a front runner as it scores very highly is some areas. But it will be difficult to make a big deal about wanting to be so identifiably Miami and then going and playing this far north. Inter Miami CF can’t afford to make mistakes, especially early on, and starting so far outside of Miami could be a massive own goal.
HARD ROCK STADIUM
South Florida’s showpiece stadium is now just over 30 years old and went through a recent update. Designed for football, it still does a great job of putting on other events.
Location – 5/10: The location is pretty solid if unspectacular. It’s Dade County but only just and in the middle of nowhere.
Transport links – 5/10: Your only realistic option is to drive and that of course means you are going to get stung for parking on top of everything. Forget public transport.
Playing surface – 9/10: Also has natural grass and has hosted some of the best soccer teams on the planet with no complaints. Ground staff are experienced at turning the surface around for different sports.
Fan experience – 7/10: The stadium is easy on the eye post-facelift but behind the cosmetic improvements it’s good without being great. Again as a football stadium, if you like to watch the game with a bird’s eye view you’ll be OK. If you want to be close to the action then it’s not so hot. There is more cover than FAU but although you’ll be protected from the rain and the sun it can get pretty windy in some parts of the stadium due to it being in such an exposed location. The capacity is 64,767, which is far too big. Closing off the top tier will help but empty seats are empty seats. The atmosphere will suffer at a stadium that isn’t close to capacity.
Other tenants and issues – 4/10: There’s just so much going on already. Would the franchise want to play second or third fiddle so much? The opening of the MLS season clashes directly with tennis thanks to the Miami Open moving to the Hard Rock from Key Biscayne. In the fall you are battling not one but two football teams. On top of that there is a big schedule of concerts and other events.
TOTAL 30/50: A safe choice but with quite a few little drawbacks. The biggest issues are finding the space for the games in the stadium’s busy schedule and it’s uninspiring location. It’s a place Miami’s sports fans are used to going to though, even if it’s not the best for soccer.
RICCARDO SILVA STADIUM
The spiritual home of pro soccer in Miami in this decade.
Location – 6/10: Similar to the Hard Rock, just on the other side of town. It’s a bit closer to the city and the possible permanent locations though and there’s a bit more going on in the surrounding area.
Transport links – 5/10: Just off the turnpike. Don’t want to drive? Good luck on that #11 bus!
Playing surface – 6/10: Artificial turf. It might be new artificial turf but it’s still not the real thing.
Fan experience – 6/10: The stadium is a bit barebones and open to the elements. Its asset is its small size. Even though it’s designed for football, you’re a little more on top of things than at Hard Rock or FAU. The capacity is exactly 20,000, which might make it a bit small but on the other hand Becks will be able to boast sellout after sellout.
Other tenants and issues – 3/10: This is where things get tricky. The Ricky has demonstrated it can host a whole soccer season alongside the FIU Panthers but are Miami FC about to make a return? Although FC’s future is up in the air there’s an expectation that they will back to bigger things soon, possibly as early as 2019 with the rumored NPSL Pro. If Miami FC are playing here, it’s out of the running as the MLS will not sanction a ground share. And that’s before you even get into what an unpopular figure Silva is with the folks at SUM. If Miami FC vanish it’s a good option but that’s almost certainly not going to happen.
TOTAL 26/50: Well-known to soccer fans in Miami and solid scores across the board. But Miami FC have first dibs. If they are going back, it can’t be considered.
The much-maligned ballpark in Little Havana needs a PR win. Could hosting the new soccer franchise be just the ticket?
Location – 8/10: You’ve got to get people used to coming to a centrally located stadium early on. Say what you want about Marlins Park, the location is second to none.
Transport links – 7/10: Close to the Dolphin but the public transit could be a little better. Metrorail is the other side of the river, although there are free shuttle buses during sports events. A short Uber or Lyft journey from surrounding areas like Doral, Gables and the Grove, Downtown and Miami Beach is a big bonus.
Playing surface – 6/10: Natural grass. The challenge is that there can be big differences in how baseball fields and soccer pitches are prepared. Also you are constrained with the dimensions of the pitch. Not ideal.
Fan experience – 7/10: Once you get over the weird shape of the stadium there is a lot to like. The biggest plus is the roof. This means you can sidestep all the weather delays that would come with the other options. It’s also the only stadium that officially has a standing area, albeit a small one. You can get fans behind both goals so it so overall should score pretty high on atmosphere. It’s a far nicer stadium to actually be in than the other options. Capacity of 37,442 is maybe a little high, but if the team starts off winning they could fill it.
Other tenants and issues – 6/10: Sharing with a baseball team is manageable and they are the only other tenants. Compared to Hard Rock there are far fewer other events to negotiate on the schedule.
TOTAL 34/50: On balance Marlins Park is a nose ahead of the other options. The geometry inside the stadium is not ideal but it’s a temporary venue. The huge advantages it has in other areas should make it first choice. A full stadium will be good for the operator and the team will be starting as they mean to go on, as close to the heart of Miami as possible.
If FAU Stadium is an option, so should Lockhart be. The only existing, if deserted, soccer specific stadium in South Florida. It has even hosted MLS in the past.
Location – 3/10: We are outside Miami-Dade again. Not as much of a mission as FAU but still a good distance from the City of Miami.
Transport links – 8/10: Pretty much the same as FAU here. Moments from the I-95 and a short walk from Cypress Creek on the Tri-Rail.
Playing surface – 7/10: Was a good natural grass surface in it’s heyday and could easily be again. It would need some attention to get back up and running though.
Fan experience – 7/10: You would be hard-pushed to find anyone with a bad word to say about Lockhart. It’s hosted many famous evenings of soccer through the years and is a treasured part of the history of the sport in South Florida. The stadium is open without many places to take cover when it rains but that is surely the only true negative. The combination of it’s historic charm and soccer-specific design make it a great place to watch the sport. It’s small though: 17,417 is its capacity, but that could mean a full house every game.
Other tenants and issues – 6/10: With Lockhart you get exclusivity and you can completely make the place your own. It would require a little cosmetic attention to make it fit for use again but that’s easily doable in the year and half the Beckham Group has. Its age isn’t an issue for the regular fan but it does lack the flashy executive pizzazz the suits might want.
TOTAL 31/50: It would be a great gesture to restore this stadium and hand it back to the community, that would be a big PR win. It could even be retained for a USL affiliate or B team or even an NWSL team. Its soccer heritage brings something to the table that no other venue can.
There’s not much in it. All five are great options and all have their strengths. Which venue do you prefer? Where should Inter Miami CF start out? Let us know on social media.
This afternoon, Inter Miami CF added to its front office personnel. Jurgen Mainka was announced as the Chief Business Officer for the team.
Inter Miami CF sparked what was arguably the most passionate ornithological argument in the history of sports iconography. What kind of bird graces the front of the team’s new crest? Well, that question and more has been answered in a video post from the club.
Fútbol Miami MLS confirmed through its Twitter account Wednesday morning that Paul McDonough, formerly of Atlanta United, will be joining the team as Sporting Director.
“Paul shares our dream for making Miami the League’s Global Team,” co-owner Jorge Mas said through the team’s Twitter account. “And is uniquely positioned to recruit and develop the talent on and off the field to make this a reality.”
“Paul played a critical role in the building of our club and we are very appreciative of his hard work and dedication in making Atlanta United a success,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales said in a statement released by the club. “We wish him and his family all the best moving forward.”
Reaction to the hire was generally positive.
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) August 2, 2018
— Gabriel Gabor (@MLSGabor) August 2, 2018
Paul McDonough loves him some expansion action. Good luck to the former Orlando City man (but it’s Miami, so not TOO good of luck). https://t.co/DCM9sBl2Cy
— The Mane Land (@TheManeLand) August 2, 2018
According to Paul Tenorio of The Athletic, Fútbol Miami MLS appears to have a favored candidate for its general manager position, and it’s a name that will be familiar to those interested in Major League Soccer expansion clubs: Paul McDonough, Vice President of Soccer Operations for Atlanta United.
Earlier this month, co-owner Jorge Mas told local media that he anticipated a hire for the general manager position by the end of August. That would mean the franchise is already in the late stages of the search process. Tenorio’s report indicates Fútbol Miami MLS wants an expansion specialist. If that’s the case, McDonough may be the perfect hire.
Before joining Atlanta in January 2016, McDonough was hired by Orlando City of then-USL. McDonough and Adrian Heath (manager) were brought in to shepard the team into the highest ranks of American professional soccer. While the results on the field have not been perfect, the growth of the Orlando project (specifically the growth of fan support within the city and ticket sales) became a model for teams around the country.
One year later, McDonough jumped ship to soon-to-be rivals Atlanta United, in a hire announced in December 2015.
McDonough has received specific credit for the development of Atlanta United’s youth academy, which is now widely considered one of, if not the best, youth soccer academy in the United States. Fútbol Miami MLS has previously insisted that the club will be based around a strong youth program. The team wants to tap into the talent available in South Florida.
Prior to joining the front office of clubs, Paul McDonough spent two years with Wasserman (previously known as the Wasserman Media Group, or WMG) as Director of Global Soccer. In that role, he represented professional soccer players in MLS and abroad. Prior to that, he spent three years at Santio Sport + Entertainment as director of recruiting. His soccer career began on the field, where he worked as an assistant coach at Wake Forest University (1999-2001), the University of South Carolina (2001-2002) and the University of Connecticut (2003-2009).
Just hours before the start of the City of Miami commission meeting that could potentially decide the deal’s fate, the Term Sheet that establishes the proposal between the ownership group and the city regarding Miami Freedom Park and Soccer Village was made public.
First shared by local columnist Grant Stern, the three-page term sheet covers a number of issues, some dealing in terms already established and some touching on concerns that commissioners shared last week.
On Monday, in advance of Fútbol Miami MLS appearing in front of the City of Miami’s commission for the second time in a week on Wednesday, co-owner Jorge Mas and Mayor Francis Suarez were grilled by the Miami Herald’s editorial board for an hour, facing a series of questions about the proposed development at Melreese Country Club.
Matt and Omar tackle Miami soccer on and off the field in this episode of Magic City Soccer, as the vote for Fútbol Miami MLS’ Melreese plan is delayed a week, and The Miami FC 2 defeats Jacksonville Armada FC to claim the NPSL’s Sunshine Conference crown. We also give a brief wrap-up of a wonderful World Cup. Join us, won’t you?
Thanks to our sponsor, Groundhopper, for helping to make this Magic City Soccer episode happen!