CLOSE David Beckham describes the advantages he has as a team owner. USA TODAY
NEW YORK — There was a silent intensity that simmered when David Beckham was a player, as he roamed the right side of the pitch and curled passes to his teammates’ cleats or looped free kicks past leaping defenders and through the hands of lunging keepers.
Wednesday, there was none of that.
Beckham was the guest of honor, the new face — again — of Major League Soccer when the league held a media event on the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Midtown Manhattan to celebrate its 25th season.
Beckham is breaking the mold again. Thirteen seasons after he stunned the soccer world by leaving European giant Real Madrid in the prime of his career, at 31, to join the LA Galaxy, he is elevating MLS’ global profile.
On Sunday, he will see a project six years in the making completed. As co-owner of the expansion franchise Inter Miami CF, his team will play its inaugural match in Los Angeles against LAFC (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). And for Beckham, it’s the next step as he reinvents himself from iconic player to executive.
“Nothing compares to being a player and I can’t guarantee that I will channel my emotions in any different way than I did when I was a player,” Beckham told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “So that’s what I’ve tried to bring into the experience of being an owner, but this is my first rodeo as an owner, so I’m enjoying the experience.”
Guests ranged from league Commissioner Don Garber, to former player Marcelo Balboa, to U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter. MLS boasted about its rise. Los Angeles FC lead owner Larry Berg predicted within the next 10 years, MLS would “pass baseball and hockey and be the No. 3 sport in the U.S.” There was unrestrained optimism, but all of that was secondary.
Beckham was whisked from one presentation, to a photo op, to several meet-and-greets, to a series of interviews. He had two breaks scheduled, but he didn’t take either. By 4 p.m., he was in a car, headed to NBC’s studios for a taping for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
Everyone wanted time with Beckham. And as he discussed the many challenges, the winding path that brought him here, he reflected, and he smiled.
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David Beckham’s dream of bringing an MLS team to South Florida will become reality Sunday. (Photo: Noah K. Murray, USA TODAY Sports)
There were times, though, when Beckham did boil. Most memorable was in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal match against Argentina, when Beckham, 23, got a red card early in the second half for tripping Diego Simeone after a physical challenge. England went on to lose the match on penalty kicks, 4-3.
He has credited that experience for helping him mature. And given the many obstacles and frustrations that have cropped up in getting Inter Miami CF off the ground, he said he needed to tap into that demeanor to help him see the project, announced in February 2014, through.
“I thought I would be up and running in two years after that,” Beckham said. “But that’s when all the drama started.”
Beckham struggled to secure approval for several land proposals to build a new soccer-specific stadium the league wants in the market. Voting has been denied, pushed back, and Beckham had to sort through various investors to keep his dream alive.
It all changed, Beckham said, when he received an email from the family of Jorge Mas, a Miami native and Cuban-American businessman and philanthropist. Mas expressed interest and he and his brother Jose joined the venture in December 2017. With the Mas family backing and Beckham’s global reach, the partnership has helped create enthusiasm and focus within South Florida.
“When you look at what we’ve done with our brand so far, and we haven’t kicked the ball yet, we’re an internationally recognized team and brand,” Jorge Mas told USA TODAY Sports. “And that’s due to, I think, when you look at David’s career as a player and his transition, which maybe a handful of athletes are as or more popular now than when he was at the height of his playing days. That’s a tribute to him.”
Inter Miami has settled on a proposed Miami Freedom Park stadium project on the site of the publicly owned International Links Melreese Country Club golf course, just east of Miami International Airport.
According to the Miami Herald, an environmental report discovered dangerous levels of arsenic in the soil that could require a significant sum to clean.
As if that wasn’t enough, Internazionale Milano, an Italian soccer club in the country’s Serie A league that is commonly known as Inter Milan, earned a favorable ruling from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in a trademark battle against Inter Miami.
“David’s a pretty calm and collected guy more so than most people you’ll be around,” Garber told USA TODAY Sports. “He never lost focus. He never lost faith, never got angry. And there were times when he could’ve been, probably should have been.”
For now, Inter Miami will play its games on the site of the old Lockhart Stadium in North Fort Lauderdale, where the MLS’ now-defunct Miami Fusion (1998-2001) played. It was covered in overgrown weeds until ground broke on renovations 10 months ago.
The home opener will be March 14 against Beckham’s old squad, the LA Galaxy.
Garber said the league was committed to the Freedom Park proposal and expressed confidence that Beckham, Mas, and the rest of Inter Miami’s owners would get approval.
As far as Sunday goes, Beckham still won’t know what to expect. He said he will not have input on tactical decisions throughout the season and will entrust that to manager Diego Alonso and sporting director Paul McDonough.
Midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro, who is 26 and plays on the Mexican national team, has been the club’s major signing, from C.F. Monterrey. The roster is a mix of veterans and young players, many of whom will have to step up.
“I always knew Miami was the place,” Beckham said. “I always knew this is where we should bring the team. And I’m very proud and very honored and also very emotional about bringing this team into this league this weekend.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
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