Inter Miami CF debut: How Major League Soccer’s return to South Florida affects us all | Commentary

Marcelo Claure, now a co-owner of Inter Miami CF, celebrates with members of supporters group Southern Legion, including Matthew Bunch (in Miami Fusion hat).

As Inter Miami CF kicks off its first game this afternoon, I’ve been doing some thinking. I wasn’t always a fan of soccer. In fact, I spent most of my adolescence harboring a strong dislike of the sport. Soccer was boring, no one ever scored, it was for other countries and not the United States.

Obviously, if you’ve read this website or listened to our podcast, you know that opinion has changed radically. It was a process that started in my hometown of Baltimore, but took hold in Miami. I learned to appreciate, then love, The Beautiful Game.

By the time my appreciation of soccer took hold, around 2008, I was driving to pubs on Miami Beach or Oakland Park to watch my club team, Liverpool. And I was also aware of a plan by F.C. Barcelona and Marcelo Claure to bring Major League Soccer to Miami. My first thought was: “Yeah, why the hell doesn’t Miami have MLS already?” My second thought was: “Awesome!”

My first thought was answered when I researched and discovered there had been a Miami team, and that it had been contracted after the 2001 season. My second thought was slowly killed off by the Great Recession and Barcelona’s abandonment of the project in 2009. It would be more than a decade before Major League Soccer would actually return.

A whole new world of soccer

Of course, there were options for soccer in South Florida, including a team that played five minutes from where I lived, Miami FC of USL. However, this was before my understanding of the U.S. Soccer Pyramid (and considering the nature of lower-level soccer in 2009 and 2010, one could argue U.S. Soccer didn’t understand the Pyramid very well either).

Slowly, I grew to learn more about the local options available. I learned that there was a FA Cup-style competition in the United States in 2012, and that a local team was entered. I watched the former Miami FC play at San Jose Earthquakes and lose, 2-1.  Miami FC by this point had left Miami-Dade and became Fort Lauderdale Strikers. I traveled to Lockhart to see the team play later that year and would return numerous times. Miami United started playing on Miami Beach. I grabbed a season ticket. The Miami FC took root at FIU. I joined the Dade Brigade, met some friends and started a podcast with them called Magic City Soccer.

Why bring this up today? What does it have to do with Inter Miami CF?

Changing history

Ultimately, very little. The success of this team ultimately rests on the idea that it can do what hasn’t been done before, burying history that runs back much farther than my time in South Florida. Decades of struggle, from the Miami Gatos and Miami Toros to Miami Fusion and everything before, during and after. 

I’m a savvier soccer fan than I was 12 years ago. And it was the absence of Major League Soccer that I have to thank for that. Soccer isn’t just Premier League, it isn’t just MLS, it isn’t just the top leagues. And to think that is to miss out on the greatest characteristic the sport has, which is its nature to bring together the smallest communities and largest towns around the same goals.

But damn is it going to be fun to see a Miami team playing Los Angeles Football Club this afternoon.

Putting in the work

After spending a few days in thought, I’ve come to this conclusion: The time we all will now spend with this club is going to be one hell of a ride. But the time spent without MLS, this proverbial exodus, was essential. It allowed The Miami FC to grow and find a niche, an opportunity for growth. It allowed die-hard fans to bond around lower-level clubs like Miami United and Red Force FC. It may not have broadened the support of the sport, but it deepened it among those who count themselves as die-hard fans. And for that, I’m very grateful.

I’ve also thought a lot about folks like Ed Serrano, Julio Caballero, Brian Corey and Pieter Brown  (just to name a few) who have been fighting for MLS for almost 20 years. They were fans without a club much longer than they were fans with one. Above all others, I feel today is a day for them. I’ve been thinking about Michelle Kaufman, the dean of South Florida soccer reporting who finally, and deservedly, gets a team to cover again. I’ve been thinking about Ray Hudson, who has written a page in every chapter of South Florida’s soccer story and nearly led Miami Fusion to the mountaintop in 2001. I wonder what he’ll be thinking this evening.

It has been 6,710 days since Miami Fusion lost to San Jose Earthquakes in the 2001 MLS Playoffs and walked off the field at Lockhart Stadium for the final time. At long last, the wait is over. With the debut of Inter Miami CF, may South Florida never wait so long for top-flight soccer again.

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