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Inter Miami and the city of Miami are closer to stadium deal

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Inter Miami fans cheer during the first half of their MLS soccer match against New York City FC at DRV PNK Stadium on Saturday, October 30, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Inter Miami fans cheer during the first half of their MLS soccer match against New York City FC at DRV PNK Stadium on Saturday, October 30, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

mocner@miamiherald.com

Could it finally be happening?

Could Major League Soccer finally be getting the Miami stadium it has been craving for 25 years?

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas told the Herald on Thursday that negotiations over the proposal to build Miami Freedom Park are complete. A long-awaited City Commission vote on plans to redevelop Melreese golf course into a $1 billion soccer stadium complex, shopping mall, hotel and park could be scheduled by late January.

“We have an agreement, in principle,” Suarez said. “The agreement is obviously subject to approval from the City Commission.”

While that is hardly a green light (this is Miami, after all), it is as close as Miami has gotten to an MLS stadium deal in a quarter century.

“I think the dream of bringing a state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadium to Miami is very close,” said Mas, reached in Vail, Colorado, where he is on a family ski vacation. “I look forward to getting the green light from the commission shortly so we can do the hard part, which is building the project.

“I am super excited. I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to pull four votes. It’s not done until it’s done, but we wouldn’t be bringing something to the commission if we didn’t think it could pass.”

Mas, an eternal optimist, hopes to break ground in fall of this year and open the 27,000-28,000-seat stadium in late 2024. Covering soccer in a Miami stadium in two years would be great, but something tells me there will be further hurdles and delays.

Forgive the cynicism, but this saga was playing out long before David Beckham came to town in 2014 with his dreams of an MLS team at a waterfront stadium.

On July 8, 1997, in an 18th-floor ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, MLS launched the Miami Fusion. I was there that day. The club’s name and logo were revealed with much giddiness — a futuristic blue and yellow oval with the word “Fusion” over a sunburst. Modeling the jerseys were then-MLS and U.S. national team stars Cobi Jones and Mark Chung, both now long retired.

“The name Fusion is explosive and powerful, and it symbolizes the unification of Miami’s multinational population,” team owner Ken Horowitz, the Palm Beach cellular phone mogul, said at the news conference. “It is a symbol that soccer fans of all nationalities will gather in Miami to see a dynamic team.”

From the league’s inception the goal was to have a Miami team become a bilingual global brand that would extend MLS tentacles into South and Central America. The idea was to get fans from those regions to adopt the Miami team as their U.S. based team, watch games on TV, buy merchandise, and travel to Miami to see them play in person.

The plan was for the Fusion to begin play in March 1998 at the Orange Bowl. But Horowitz, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and the City Commission could not come to terms on a lease agreement, so Horowitz took the team to Fort Lauderdale and upgraded Lockhart Stadium, where they played until they folded in 2001.

Then-MLS commissioner Doug Logan complained about Miami politics slowing down the franchise startup: “It’s no coincidence that this event is being held after the recent Miami elections. It was a long, bumpy road with political side trips.”

Bumpy road? Political side trips? Miami MLS team playing in Fort Lauderdale? Sound familiar?

Here we are in January 2022 and the team called Inter Miami, the team MLS said would play in the “urban core” of Miami, is about to kick off its third season at DRV PNK Stadium off Commercial Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale.

Beckham, Jorge and Jose Mas and their partners invested upwards of $100 million to build the complex in Broward County. The 18,000-seat pink-and-black stadium is as nice as a temporary stadium can be, the field and training grounds are world class, but it was not intended as Inter Miami’s permanent home.

Since the days of the Orange Bowl plans, the Miami MLS team was supposed to play in the heart of Miami, smack in the middle of the city’s soccer-crazed international melting pot. There would be big tailgate parties and fancy suites. It makes sense.

“Fort Lauderdale’s been great for us, and we will continue there with our second team, continue to have a training facility there, and we can host games there, but as I’ve always said, when you think of soccer in the United States I want you to think of Miami,” Mas said. “Miami Freedom Park will be a soccer destination with a state-of-the-art stadium, a soccer museum, a showcase for our city, and great for our team.”

Frankly, as much as I love Miami, I would have probably given up on it by now if I were a soccer team owner. Twenty-five years is a long time to fight city hall for a stadium. But Beckham and the Mas brothers are digging in their heels.

“I’m a huge optimist, a dreamer, and I’m stubborn,” Mas said. “I don’t give up easily. There could be delays, obstacles, opposition, but we’re going to push to the end. Whatever it takes. Other people tell me they would have walked away. But that’s not my nature, or my family’s.”

The next few months should be very interesting. Chances are the road will stay bumpy. And there will be more political side trips. But MLS may finally get its Miami stadium after all.

This story was originally published January 6, 2022 6:01 PM.

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Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, Super Bowls and has been the soccer writer and University of Miami basketball beat writer for 25 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.





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Report: DC United signing Greek forward Taxiarchis Fountas as Designated Player

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Fountas has a track record as a leading goalscorer in Austria’s top flight, netting 35 times in 68 league appearances. He broke onto the professional ranks in Greece with AEK Athens from 2011-13 before heading to Red Bull Salzburg.

The club’s forward group is currently headlined by Ola Kamara, who finished second in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race last season with 19 goals in 28 games, ceding the top honors to NYCFC‘s Valentin Castellanos via the assists tiebreaker.

D.C., heading into their second year under head coach Hernan Losada, missed an Eastern Conference spot in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs by one point.





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Not another Freddy Adu: RSL’s Axel Kei ready for challenge as youngest-ever MLS signing

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You can draw the comparison if you must. He’s ready for that. In fact, this month’s milestone is actually the second time he’s broken one of Adu’s marks, having already made his pro debut back in October, when he appeared for Real Monarchs in USL Championship action on an academy contract. Kei was 13 years, 8 months and 9 days for the first record; he was 14 years and 15 days for the second.

“The whole pressure of Freddy Adu and all that stuff. I saw all that, I read all the articles, I watched all the YouTube videos,” noted Kei. “Of course there’s going to be people that want to see – ‘oh, this kid, we heard this kid is good, he’s out here breaking records, whatever, I want to see what he has, see what he got.’

“I’m not letting that get into my head. This is just like, I’m still gonna be me. I’m still gonna train. Not because people are saying they want to see this, they want to see that, that I’m gonna change my playing style. It’s just the way I am, I’m not going to change this. I’m still going to be the same Axel Kei, I’m still gonna play how I play. It’s just focusing on what I like to do – soccer.”

If you’re struggling to set a fair barometer for Kei, consider that Beltran and his colleagues at Zions Bank Training Center know all about Adu’s story. How burdensome a record like that and the comparisons it generates can be. And yet Kei’s abilities are so striking, his upward trajectory already so steep, that they could not avoid the conclusion that Salt Lake should sign him now anyway.





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MNUFC Partners with CLEAR to Use Health Pass for Entry at Allianz Field

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Minnesota United announced today a partnership with CLEAR to use their Health Pass technology at Allianz Field to provide easy proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test and offer a safer and faster fan entry into the stadium. CLEAR’s Health Pass will be in place when Allianz Field hosts the U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup Qualifier against Honduras on Wednesday, February 2. 

The partnership coincides with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate announced on January 12 by Mayor Melvin Carter and the City of Saint Paul. All fans ages five and older attending the U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup Qualifier at Allianz Field must either furnish proof of a completed vaccination series against COVID-19 or proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken under medical supervision within 72 hours of entry. COVID booster shots are not required, and at-home tests do not meet this requirement. This requirement will remain in place until the vaccine mandate is lifted by the City of St. Paul.

Additionally, all guests at Allianz Field are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings. Face coverings are required for fans ages two and older in all indoor spaces unless actively eating or drinking. This includes club spaces, the Atomic Data Suite Level, Black & Blue Team Stores and restrooms.

Fans can complete their CLEAR Health Pass following the instructions below:

For more information on Allianz Field’s COVID-19 policies for the U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup Qualifier on February 2, go to mnufc.com.





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