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MLS expands to Miami with David Beckham’s support

MIAMI — David Beckham had a speech prepared and well-rehearsed for the event four years in the making, then abandoned his script shortly after taking the confetti-covered stage.

David Beckham speaks at an event where it was announced that Major League Soccer is bringing an expansion team to Miami, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Miami. The team is backed by Beckham and a team of investors. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Fitting, since nothing in his quest went as planned.

"Bringing an MLS club to Miami," Beckham said, "has been a hell of a journey."

The journey is now complete: Beckham has his team, and Miami is back in Major League Soccer.

Beckham and MLS announced Monday that the long-awaited franchise is now born. It took Beckham nearly four years just to get this far with Miami, and there's a slew of details still to come — such as the team name, logo and when it will start play.

All that can wait. The deal is done, and a team is on the way.

"Welcome, Miami," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.

"Hola, Miami," Beckham said.

The team will play in a 25,000-seat, privately funded stadium to be built in the city's Overtown neighborhood, designed by a firm that has worked on several MLS venues in recent years. Part of the deal also is that Beckham's group will build a training center and an academy focused on developing local players.

"Our pledge to our fans in Miami and around the world is simple: your team will always strive to make you proud on the pitch, our stadium will be a place that you cherish visiting, and our impact in the community and on South Florida's youth will run deep," Beckham said.

Beckham is a global icon — in the soccer world, the entertainment world, even the fashion world . He started his career with Manchester United and also played for Real Madrid, Los Angeles Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. He was a fixture in international matches for England for years, and won four championships in four different leagues around the globe.

He told a story of how as a 12-year-old, a coach told him that he wouldn't play professionally or for England. He persevered anyway, became perhaps the biggest name in the game when his playing career was at its peak — and the same doggedness was necessary to get a deal done in Miami, after the quest for a franchise nearly failed several times along the way.

David Beckham, left, talks with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, right, at an event where it was announced that MLS is bringing an expansion team to Miami, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Miami. The team is backed by Beckham and a group of investors. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

"We're here because of David," said Marcelo Claure, one of Beckham's partners.

Monday's event — more pep rally than news conference, with a few hundred fans in attendance and a red carpet interview area snaking through the media room — was intentionally benign in many respects. The MLS logo for all the signage had a black background, with the word "Miami" printed below it in white.

"Great things come to those that wait," Garber said, noting that Miami fans have been emailing him for 10 years with hopes of MLS coming back to South Florida. The Miami area had an MLS team from 1998 through 2001, one that folded largely because of poor attendance.

In the beginning of this Beckham-Miami plan, some people involved in the talks predicted that the team would begin play in 2017.

Getting on the field in time for 2020 season might even be a challenge now. But it is coming, which is all the ardent soccer fans of Miami have wanted to hear for years.

"We'll be the best team," Beckham said. "When I was awarded the team, there was only one city for me. Only one city, and it was here."

Momentum truly started building last spring, when Miami-Dade County commissioners approved a deal to sell Beckham nearly three acres of county land for $9 million — the last parcel needed for the nine-acre site on which the planned 25,000-seat stadium will be built. MLS officials said even then they hoped to announce the team's official inclusion into MLS last summer.

It took a few more months.

"My fellow Miamians, finally, we are here," Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. "This announcement has been a long time coming."

The return of the Miami market to MLS is the latest chapter in the league's steady expansion .

In 2006, there were 12 MLS clubs and the expansion fee to enter the league was $10 million. Miami becomes the 25th franchise after the addition last month of expansion Nashville — which paid a $150 million entry fee. MLS' average attendance at matches has also risen nearly 43 percent over that 12-year span.

Beckham's group didn't pay anywhere near what Nashville did. As part of former English star's playing contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Beckham had the right to establish an MLS franchise for $25 million. He formally announced Miami as his pick in February 2014.

"Our town. Our city," said Miami businessman Jorge Mas, another of Beckham's partners. "Dreams are realized where freedom reigns."