A source with a sports marketing firm in South Florida contacted us with a story on a plan from Major League Soccer (MLS) to bring two "southeast" teams into the league in 2016 as a "packaged deal". Additionally, the source went on to say the discussion solely focused around franchises in Orlando and Miami.
Needless to say, I was skeptical, so I followed up with some questions to the source who went on to say that the Miami franchise would use Florida International University (FIU) Stadium as a temporary home with plans for a dedicated soccer-specific stadium by 2020. They also said Orlando would start play in a soccer-specific stadium in 2016 but would use the Florida Citrus Bowl if there were any funding or construction delays.
I have been covering MLS expansion in Florida for several years now, honestly, reports and "sources" like these reach my inbox on almost a daily basis. The source "claimed" to be present for some of the private meetings David Beckham has had with officials in South Florida. I can't validate that because I don't know when or where the meetings happened this weekend. They could have occurred at a swanky bar on Ocean Drive in South Beach or an IHOP in Boca Raton for all I know.
I reached out to MLS for a comment on the rumor of Orlando and Miami being a packaged deal and joining the league in 2016. Dan Courtemanche, VP of Communications for the league, responded with the following:
"While we are pleased to see strong interest in potential Major League Soccer expansion, we do not have a specific plan yet for adding new teams. We are pleased with the recent addition of New York City FC and will be addressing future expansion in the near future."
MLS is hoping to address future expansion in the near future? That's news to me considering the Commissioner Garber stated the league would be taking a breather for a little while following NYCFC being made official. We know that Orlando City is making a push to have a stadium funding plan in place by July so that's a strong possibility. Additionally, Beckham has been in South Florida since late last week visiting existing stadiums and meeting with local politicians and business groups as he evaluates exercising his $25M purchase option for an expansion franchise.
Regardless of the validity of the rumored story, the possibility of both Orlando and Miami joining MLS during the same season offers an interesting tactile weapon for fighting MLS' damaged history in Florida. The league could enter into the largest market in the state (Miami) while having a natural and established rival (Orlando City) located less than 4 hours up the Florida Turnpike. That distance is roughly the same as Dallas-Houston, Foxboro-Harrison, and Portland/Vancouver-Seattle; a drive-able distance for supporter groups to allow for day trips or overnights.
The idea of a Miami franchise playing at FIU's stadium seems more than reasonable based on the capacity (20,000), modern upgrades, close proximity to downtown Miami (15 miles), and a FIFA-sized pitch already in place. With Miami and most Floridian tax payers still reeling from the $650M Marlins stadium deal, I wouldn't have a problem with FIU being a long term home for the club.
Tips, emails, and rumors on MLS expansion in Miami have ebbed and flowed like the warm waters of Biscayne Bay for the last week. Even with the comment from Courtemanche I would file this news under the definitely maybe category.