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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
Confetti shot from cannons. The music was loud, and the soccer crazies calling themselves the Southern Legion were louder. Proclamations? They couldn't have been any grander.
South Florida reclaimed a spot on the soccer map Monday afternoon with a rousing ceremony at the Knight Concert Hall, where one of the transcendent figures from the sport, David Beckham, confirmed what everybody knew: Major League Soccer is returning to the region in 2020 when the Miami expansion franchise (still unnamed) plays in a stadium (still not built).
"People say this is a city built on dreams," Beckham told the crowd. "Today, you made my dream come true."
Barely, he might have added. Amid the joy, there was no attempt by Beckham, his partners and politicians to gloss over the fact that this day came within an eyelash of never happening. MLS Commissioner Don Garber admitted the league discussed closing up shop when Palm Beach's Ken Horowitz, the Miami Fusion owner, folded his team in 2002.
Plus, Beckham and his investors admitted that a month ago, they decided to quit after four years of fighting for a plot of land for a stadium.
"I had people come up to me and say, 'Let it go,'" said Beckham, the former star for Manchester United, Real Madrid and the English National Team.
Horowitz, for one, is delighted Beckham decided to give it one final try.
"It's a great day for South Florida and soccer," Horowitz said from New York. "Finally, great news. I'm not surprised it took longer than everybody thought because of what I went through. It's a tough city, but perseverance pays."
Horowitz said he discussed investing in Beckham's group, and even though it didn't work out, he's eager to support the team as a fan.
"It's a combination of David and his partners, and it's been, what, 18 years, something like that, since the Miami Fusion closed its doors?" Horowitz said. "A lot has changed. I'm very optimistic."
Lake Worth's Christopher Harris, who wore a Fusion jersey to the ceremony, predicted that even though the team has tentative plans to build a soccer-specific stadium in the Overtown section of Miami, fans will come from Broward and Palm Beach.
"I think for those families, they'll give it a chance, so long as there's Brightline or Tri-Rail," said Harris, who runs the site worldsoccertalk.com. "I think for many soccer fans, especially in Palm Beach County, they might come down for a couple of games and see what the experience is like -- see if it's a hassle, see what the whole parking situation is."
And he hopes MLS sticks around this time.
"It was like a divorce," Harris said of the Fusion's demise. "If I look back on my life, that was one of the more depressing periods." It was personal because Harris got engaged to his wife, Debbie, on the field at halftime of a match against the Tampa Bay Mutiny, who also folded in '02.
Despite the focus on Overtown, Beckham's group owns only a portion of the land necessary, there's a court battle involved and other venues remain possibilities. The team expects to play its first season in a temporary home, with possibilities including Hard Rock Stadium, Florida International University and Marlins Park.
In the interim, Beckham plans to launch a Miami "soccer academy" offering professional coaching to young players, like in Europe.
Beckham said he has received calls from prominent pros who want to play for Miami. Although he wouldn't specify where he'll spend most of his time searching for talent, he declared his team will "definitely not be a defensive team." Beckham was, after all, an attacking midfielder and free-kick specialist.
The fact the stadium site remains unsettled should surprise no one following the saga.
"It was actually like the weather this morning in Miami," Beckham said. "I woke up, there was a little bit of sun. Then there was rain. Then there was clouds. Then there was sun again, and that's how the last four years have really been for us."
As far as Beckham and business partner Marcelo Claure were concerned, the prospect was dead in December, when they huddled in New York to say farewell.
"We both sat there like depressed young kids," Beckham said.
Then they remembered an e mail that arrived a few weeks prior. Miami brothers Jorge and Jose Mas wanted in.
"The missing part for us was the local partners that know the area, know the city and are respected," Beckham said. "I always turn around and say there's a reason why it's taken four years to happen, and they were the reason."
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