MIAMI - It's been four years in the making. Now it's a reality.
Soccer legend David Beckham and his Miami Beckham United partners were officially awarded a Major League Soccer franchise Monday.
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The announcement came with much fanfare. About an hour before the announcement, a group of soccer fans marched through downtown Miami holding a sign that read, "MLS Miami. Ready for glory," before waiting in line to be allowed inside the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber promised that this team will be "deeply connected" with its fans.
"This is your club, this is your city and the world is going to be watching what you do to make this one of the great teams in the world," Garber said.
Beckham and Garber praised the tireless effort of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and recently elected Miami Mayor Francis Suarez for helping to make soccer in Miami a reality.
Gimenez heaped his own praise upon Beckham, saying that the former LA Galaxy star could have backed out after years of delays and squabbling about stadium sites. Instead, Beckham believed in Miami and remained committed to the community.
"I promise you the team that we bring into this league will be one of the best teams," Beckham said, before adding, "The best team."
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South Florida previously had an MLS team from 1998-2001, but it folded because of poor attendance. The Miami Fusion played their home games in Fort Lauderdale after the team couldn't reach an agreement with the city on a lease at the old Orange Bowl.
This time around, Beckham's group and Garber were committed to making sure that the rebirth of MLS in South Florida was rooted in Miami.
"There was only one city for me," Beckham said.
Beckham, whose soccer career took him from Manchester United to Real Madrid before venturing stateside with the Galaxy in 2007, said there were times when he thought his dream wasn't going to happen.
"But I don't give up," Beckham said.
Beckham said he wants to bring the top players from Europe, but his focus is on bringing "homegrown talent" to Miami.
Gimenez vowed to work with Beckham "as best we can to ensure that your franchise is ready to play as soon as possible."
Fans chanted "Thank you Beckham" after the announcement.
"Four years we've been waiting for this," one soccer fan, Matthew Ramos, said. "What a great moment. What a great moment. … It's an amazing day."
Beckham's partners include Miami natives Jorge and Jose Mas and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. The Mas brothers partnered with Beckham after their failed bid to purchase the Miami Marlins.
While Beckham is clearly the star here, the Mas brothers will be guiding the next steps.
"We're the largest Hispanic business in the country now from here in Miami," Jorge Mas said. "(I'm) born and bred here. The politicians are my friends, so I think it'll be easier for us to be able to transmit our vision and our dreams and make them a reality."
The team will now need to close on a county parcel to complete its stadium site in Overtown. Beckham's group will also need to request city zoning changes and a street closure.
"We decide whether or not we're going to approve it and under what conditions, and certainly in collaboration with the residents of the city of Miami," Suarez said.
Claure told Local 10 News that the team will begin playing in 2020 without a stadium, but that the team's home should be ready by 2021. He said the venue for 2020 remains to be determined but that there are plenty of options.
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