If shock-waves went round the world of football when David Beckham agreed to sign for LA Galaxy, last weekâ€™s announcement by Barcelona that they are backing a bid to start a team in the MLS should have received ten times as many column inches.
As some stunned US columnists have noted in recent days, this is an opportunity the MLS simply cannot pass up. Arguably, this is the biggest thing to ever happen to American â€œsoccerâ€ – and this is a country that has welcomed Beckham and Pele to its shores.
The Spanish club announced that â€œThe idea is to set up an investee company involving FC Barcelona and a Bolivian entrepreneur living in Miami, Marcelo Claure, who is the chief of an investment group featuring Americans and citizens of different South American countries, Claure is already the owner of FC Bolivar, with whom FC Barcelona already collaborate. The company’s sole aim right now is present an application for a franchise and promote it to the MLS.”
The MLS currently has 14 teams with two more to be added in the next couple of seasons. The MLS is now aiming to add two more for the 2011 season and Barcelonaâ€™s Miami option must be one of the strongest tenders.
The world famous name of Barcelona would be an incredible coup for American football. Of course, the huge population of Hispanics in Miami will be drawn to a side that has links to Lionel Messi and before the diminutive Argentinean, world stars such as Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Romario. And they have made a bid alongside the man who runs the largest Hispanic-owned company in the United States.
The MLS has struggled so far to pull in Hispanics to get interested in the MLS. After all, many of the football fans who have links to South America or Europe, prefer to watch their teams on TV rather than give a whole new side support, even if it means they can go to their home games. But, if anyone can change this attitude, it is Barcelona.
The joint bid from Barcelona and Claure is tarnished somewhat by the failure of Miami Fusion, the team that participated in the MLS from 1998 to 2001. One of the biggest reasons for the failure of the Fusion was down to the fact the team played at the Lockhart Stadium, which was difficult for many football fans to reach.
In their place has been Miami FC, a USL team that have done an admirable job trying to push soccer to the citizens of Miami. The bid from Barcelona is also grounded in reality, since the new proposal includes playing home matches at Florida International University, which is a much better base for football fans to reach.
The bid from Barcelona also shows the great strides that the MLS has made. Attendances now average 16,000 and a number of wealthy benefactors are looking to get involved in a growing sport. Mark Abbott, MLS president added to the positive nature of the bid by proclaiming: â€œIt is a great sign of the continuing maturation of the league that a club of Barcelona’s stature is interested in bringing its brand to the US, I take it as a great sign of where the league is.”
Barcelona president Joan Laporta described his own club as â€œpioneers,â€ but in truth the MLS would be insane to let such an opportunity pass by. The proximity to Latin America is a good enough reason to grant Miami a new team, but what an opportunity for an improving league.
Now, all the MLS have to make sure is that the new Miami team is good enough to live up to the Barcelona name.