FROM STEVE BRENNER IN MIAMI
Soccer finally broke out in Miami last night.
David Beckham was nowhere to be seen. None of his well-heeled player friends were present either.
Instead it was AC Milan and Italian legend Alessandro Nesta taking center stage at Ocean Bank Field in the sprawling, impressive campus of Florida’s International University.
While the protracted wait for the presence of an MLS team here in South Florida nauseatingly stretches on and on , the NASL, ever the chancers when it comes to identifying potential hotbed soccer markets , have made their move.
This was their first ever home match with the Tampa Bay Rowdies coming to join the party.
Miami FC is Floridian by name yet fuelled by Italian machismo.
While Nesta prowled the dug out , co-owner Paolo Maldini would have been looking for the result from afar in what has been a turbulent few weeks for the legendary San Siro left-back following the passing of his father , Cesare.
A minute’s silence was well observed for the former Italy coach.
That was , however, as somber as it got.
It certainly wasn’t an evening for the purists but,undoubtetly , there were enough fun and frolics to keep the patrons happy.
A half-baked Forza Miami flag was present behind one the goals.
Roma’s Curva Sud, it was not.
The money of TV rights magnate Riccardo Silva, another Italian export who met Maldini and Nesta while working for AC Milan’s TV channel over 15 years ago, powers the franchise.
Yet in such a culturally rich city as Miami, the target audience spans the whole of the Americas and beyond.
That’s millions of enthusiasts right there, right now.
Maluma , a Columbian pop-star for those unaware of his back catalogue, was wheeled out before the match and at half-time, much to the delight of large groups of squealing 14 year-old girls.
He asked a healthy crowd of 10,156 where they were from.
Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina?
All got healthy roars. And lots of squeals.
That , however, is what Silva wants.
There were excited children everywhere .
They are the future for a franchise just starting out on the arduous journey of attempting to become established in a sporting market which remains heavily saturated.
The 50 year-old baseball or NFL fan won’t be magically transported to a new sporting world of awe the moment they take in a Miami FC match.
There’s enough on their plate with the Marlins and the Dolphins.
Young fans who are desperate to see some live action rather than pretending to be Lionel Messi on their PlayStation’s ,however, will certainly come again.
“The NASL is a kind of sub culture, “ said Lowell Knaus , proudly wearing an Arsenal shirt along with his son, who travelled the 25 miles from Fort Lauderdale to check out the latest addition to the Florida footballing family.
“The fans love the game and it’s great for the area that a team in Miami are starting up.”
So what of the match itself?
Certainly the plastic playing surface did no-one any favors.
It’s not conducive to flowing , attractive soccer although when you’re sharing with a college football team, that’s one hardship which must be stomached.
“It is a difficult surface, “ said former Stoke and Tottenham midfielder Wilson Palacios, Miami’s star turn.
“Maybe they will change it in a few months.”
Nesta’s side, for the most part, appeared the more capable last night. What looked like the winning strike came in the first half from striker Dario Cvitanich and once Honduran Palacios entered the fray soon after the opener, the home team were in control.
For the second successive weekend however, a late equalizer dented Nesta’s evening, substitute Georgi Hristov’s late penalty ensured the small but loud band of Rowdies fans went home happy.
“I just want to win, “ the legendary former AC Milan and Lazio defender told the Guardian when asked how life in the dug-out compares to a career which saw him rack up over 490 appearances for club and country.
“The atmosphere and crowd were very pleasing though. I hope we showed enough to make them come back. I am still disappointed with the result. We should have won.”
One would expect Beckham’s MLS inception , whenever it might be , to be glitzy in the extreme.
Swap Maluma for Elton John or Jay-Z . Add in Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney for Palacios.
A new sparkling stadium, dripping with corporate effects will look better than a University arena still sporting American Football markings.
Yet Nesta and co are playing and building a future right now.
It’s raw in the extreme, slapdash at times.
But it was a fun night out for the uninitiated – and for those who already have the game in their hearts.
Their dream has started.
How Beckham longs to be in that position right now.