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Beckham, MLS to reveal plans for Miami team

Amid reports that Major League Soccer has awarded a franchise to David Beckham, the soccer legend will reveal progress toward locating a team in Miami during a downtown news conference Wednesday morning.

Beckham and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber are promising "a significant announcement impacting the Miami community," along with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez.

Significance of the announcement will depend on where Beckham stands in assembling investors to build a soccer-specific stadium and in completing a deal with Miami-Dade on land to build it.

Beckham's interest in obtaining an expansion franchise for Miami has been well known for months. The recently retired superstar had an option to buy in for a cut-rate price of $25 million -- others have paid $70 million to $100 million for teams.

Garber said in early December that he supported putting a team in Miami but that it was contingent on a stadium deal.

"In Miami, we can't do anything until we finalize a stadium plan," he said. "We can't go to Miami without the right stadium solution. David understands that; the city understands that. That is an indisputable fact."

Miami-Dade officials, still stung by the Marlins Park deal, have made it clear they will roll out the welcome mat for Beckham but won't provide money for a stadium. Gimenez has been in earnest negotiations with Beckham's group in recent weeks for leasing county-owned land for a 25,000-seat soccer stadium.

Beckham has shown a preference for a site at PortMiami. Some Miami-Dade commissioners have expressed opposition to putting a stadium there, and other sites are being considered.

Indicating talks were progressing, Garber last month said he expected to make an announcement in early February, but that "Right now, we've got a lot of work to do."

While Wednesday's announcement will likely shed light on where negotiations stand between Beckham's group and the county, it could be months before a deal is finalized. The commission would have to hold public hearings and approve any lease agreement that Gimenez may propose for a stadium on county land.

But all indications are that MLS will soon be returning to South Florida for the first time since the Miami Fusion were contracted along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001 due to poor attendance. The team was conceived for the Orange Bowl but ended up playing at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium.

The new Miami team would become the 22nd MLS franchise and begin play in 2016, following Orlando City, which will debut in 2015. It could play initially at a temporary site -- Marlins Park is among the possibilities -- while a permanent home is under construction.

At the rally following the announcement of Orlando's team in November, Garber told fans there to expect to have a rival several hundred miles to the south in the near future. He said circumstances have changed that indicated a team could now thrive in South Florida.

"It's a different era for the sport. Orlando City is more successful by a long shot than the MLS teams in Miami and Tampa were 10 years ago," Garber said. "There's been a dramatic shift in the demographics in our country and the global connections that our people have, our citizens have, with the rest of the world.

"Soccer has truly become the universal language of the global community. The sport has exploded, Major League Soccer had grown dramatically. We have 10 more teams than we had in the last 10 years. ... Both Tampa and Miami didn't have soccer-specific buildings. So many things have happened between then and now, that we are without doubt assured a successful situation."

One thing that still must change is getting a suitable stadium for a team in Miami. Wednesday should reveal how close that is to happening.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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