Welcome to Miami for David Beckham
10 June ~ Most recent discussion of US football has been dominated by developments in New York. With Manchester City's entry into the market with New York City FC and the New York Cosmos returning to the second tier NASL in August, there has been plenty to talk about. But MLS expansion is not going to end with the league's 20th club and second in New York. It seems likely that the next new MLS team, or maybe teams, will come from Florida. And there are some familiar faces to English football fans there too – from David Beckham to Adrian Heath.
In March, MLS commissioner Don Garber noted that on the east coast the league doesn't have any representation south of Washington DC and that "Florida's become a bit more of a priority". This was clear last Monday when Beckham, who is still trying to decide where to invest his reduced price option on an MLS franchise, visited Miami. The recent retiree was accompanied by long-term associate Simon Fuller and Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure, who owns Bolivar football club in La Paz and also wants to invest in MLS.
At Florida International University, where a new club could be based, Beckham told the press he was "excited" by the possibility of owning an MLS club in Miami. If Beckham is looking, as he claims, for a local team to emulate he'd be far better off with last year's NBA champions Miami Heat, rather than the city's baseball representatives, the Miami Marlins. They struggle with attendances in a controversial new stadium that opened last year, a ballpark that includes odd features such as dual bulletproof aquariums behind the batter and a $2.5 million (£1.6m) sculpture that jumps into life whenever a home run is scored. This isn't very often as the Marlins have one of the worst records in baseball.
Around 235 miles north of Miami, the owners of Orlando Soccer Club have been very vocal in their ambitions to reach MLS in the next couple of years. The club are managed by former Everton midfielder Heath and currently play in the third-tier USL Professional Division. In 2012 Garber said it was a matter of "when, not if" an Orlando team joins MLS. This franchise was in the lead position to become the next MLS team before they were gazumped by Manchester City's money and the League's determination to put another club in New York.
Last week the club hired Brett Lashbrook, an MLS executive who worked as a special assistant to Garber on previous league expansion. Lashbrook has been appointed to negotiate an agreement with MLS, finalise plans for a new stadium and oversee Orlando's move into the league. Orlando's major advantage is the size and enthusiasm of their fan base. In 2012 the club averaged a home attendance of over 6,900 fans, the highest in the league and more than any other minor league football team. Florida claim they are ready for MLS football – it probably won't be long before they get a chance to prove it. Ed Upright