A South Florida county has said no to soccer legend David Beckham.
Beckham’s fledgling soccer franchise Inter Miami CF is in the market for more space in addition to its plans to replace Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale for one of its teams and to build a stadium in Miami for a second team.
Broward commissioners rebuffed a last-minute attempt by the franchise to land a contract for the county’s Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill. The park has a cricket stadium that can double as a soccer venue and also has practice fields.
Club officials said their most pressing need is a site for its 150-member youth academy, which is supposed to start training in August and start playing games in September. The academy has six groupings, from under-12 to age 19. The franchise could also use extra room for its two professional teams until the Fort Lauderdale and Miami complexes are completed.
Beckham is bringing a Major League Soccer team to South Florida starting next year, along with a United Soccer League, League One team that will act as a farm club for the MLS team. The United team’s home will be at the new Lockhart Stadium, but the MLS team will also need to play there until the Miami stadium is built.
The organization offered to have 20 United games a year at the Lauderhill park in the first two years of a contract, while its MLS team is using the Lockhart site, then to hold eight United games and four MLS pre-season games at the park in future years, when the Miami stadium is done.
Except for Vice Mayor Dale Holness, Broward commissioners didn’t even want to consider the proposal. They chose instead to sign an agreement with the group recommended by county staff after a lengthy and open selection process: US Champions Soccer Academy (PSG Academy Florida), which is affiliated with FC Miami City, a United Soccer League, League Two team.
U.S. Champions will pay the county at least $1.085 million over the initial five-year contract, plus a portion of its concession revenues. It will also make $936,500 in improvements, including two lighted synthetic turf soccer fields, by 2025. The group’s sporting director is Wagneau Eloi, the former head coach of the Haitian national team and a professional player in France.
Vice Mayor Dale Holness said he wasn’t trying to have Inter Miami selected over US Champions, which runs its own academy. The US Champions academy is fee-based, while the Inter Miami academy does not charge, he said. It is run in conjunction with the MLS and academy members are selected through try-outs.
“I think that both entities could co-exist at the park,” Holness said.
They still might. The US Champions contract says the county has the right for two years “to schedule and book soccer games in the stadium and practice sessions on fields 3 and 4 that involve the USL team affiliated with the Inter Miami Major League Soccer team.” Inter Miami said it doesn’t expect any delays in constructing the Lockhart Stadium replacement.
“With Lockhart scheduled to be completed in early 2020, we are currently having open conversations with many parks to serve as an interim facility for our academy, which begins training this August,” said Paul McDonough, Inter Miami’s sports director.
The new Lockhart may be able to handle both the United and MLS team schedules until a Miami stadium is built, but McDonough said it would be better to have an alternate site for the United games.
McDonough also anticipates interest from more MLS clubs to come to South Florida for pre-season training, which starts in January, so he said additional space would come in handy.
The US Champions soccer contract comes as the county tries to get more use out of its Lauderhill stadium and fields. A separate group has a contract to schedule cricket games and tournaments there.