The wait is over. In just months, crumbled concrete in a weedy field has been transformed into a new soccer stadium. And this month, Inter Miami is ready to play.
South Florida’s new Major League Soccer club plays its first-ever game on March 1 at Los Angeles FC and its first home game on March 14 against LA Galaxy. The club will play in a new stadium that has been built in a few months on the site of Fort Lauderdale’s old Lockhart Stadium. Part-owned by English soccer legend David Beckham, the team plans to eventually move to a yet-unbuilt facility in Miami and locate a feeder team, Fort Lauderdale Club de Fútbol or Fort Lauderdale CF, in the new stadium. That team will play in the USL League 1, the third tier of U.S. professional soccer. Fort Lauderdale will also host Inter Miami’s training center. For now though, Fort Lauderdale’s home to the big club.
Jorge Mas, Inter’s managing owner, likes a challenge. “People told me it was going to be impossible to build a stadium in nine months,” he says. “This stadium will be completed for our home debut on March 14.”
The training center, Mas says, will allow South Florida to host tournaments and become a U.S. soccer centerpiece. Even after Inter moves to the 305, Mas sees Fort Lauderdale as a big part of Inter’s plans.
“Inter Miami is not just Miami’s team; it is South Florida’s team,” he says. “Fort Lauderdale Stadium will be very active beyond our first two seasons as we make South Florida a center for international (soccer) matches.”
In late December, the club welcomed Diego Alonso as its first head coach. The former Uruguayan national team player coached five seasons in Mexico, where he led Pachuca and Monterrey to Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Champions League titles and qualified for FIFA Club World Cups. Alonso is the only coach in history to win the CONCACAF Champions League with two different teams.
Florida Atlantic University’s men’s soccer coach, Joey Worthen, believes a club with big-name recognition will harness South Florida’s existing soccer energy. His team felt the excitement when one of Inter’s new fan groups showed up to support FAU at one of its home matches. “With Diego, he’s going to come in and be competitive and ready to win,” Worthen says. “That’s understandable because based off what he’s done as a player, he’ll want to have a historic season right away and bring some star power to South Florida.”
Like other South Florida soccer fans, Richard Campbell, president of the Lauderhill-based Caribbean American Soccer Association, remembers Inter’s MLS predecessor, the Miami Fusion. Like Inter Miami, the Fusion was originally planned as a Miami team. But they came to Lockhart after failing to agree to terms with the City of Miami for play in the Orange Bowl. The team began play in 1998 and was folded by the league after the 2001 season. Campbell believes the Miami Fusion didn’t take off because it didn’t have the name and funds behind them that the Beckham-fronted group has put into Inter Miami.
“Miami Fusion didn’t last because it couldn’t gain traction,” Campbell says. “With Inter Miami coming to South Florida, it’ll be night and day. You’ll see it grow tremendously because the market is here, the potential is here, and we are positioning ourselves as a community to be a part of this global growth.”
Valery Guillaume, a native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who has attended international soccer matches at Hard Rock Stadium, is planning on buying merchandise and supporting the team even if the first season has its rough patches. And he hopes others are ready to join him.
“Regardless, I’m ready to bring the noise,” he says. “They already have their 21-player squad. Now they just need our support.”