It’s easy to think of the September 6 Brazil-Colombia game at Hard Rock Stadium as just another low-stakes exhibition for South Florida fútbol fans desperate to watch their beloved teams in person. But this South American matchup — which drew 73,429 fans when the two rivals faced off at the same stadium in 2014 — is more significant now that Inter Miami CF is set to debut in 2020.
The Major League Soccer expansion side co-owned by David Beckham is in the process of putting together its coaching staff and roster. There’s been plenty of intrigue and international media speculation over who will sign with Inter Miami, but so far only three players have officially been announced: Venezuela's Christian Makoun and Argentina's Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza. Because of Miami’s large Brazilian population and even larger Colombian population, it's not far-fetched to assume other stars from the two teams could join the trio.
History has shown that MLS likes to pander to local ethnic communities with player signings to boost interest and attendance. We saw it in Orlando with Brazil’s Kaká, in Chicago with Poland’s Peter Nowak, and in Los Angeles with Mexico’s Carlos Vela, Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos, and, unfortunately, Luis Hernandez. It would make sense for a club like Miami, hoping to make a splash in year one, to follow suit. There's a reason the upcoming Brazil-Colombia friendly marks the first of three matches for Brazil at Hard Rock Stadium over the next four years and Colombia’s second year in a row: Both sides have a loyal following in South Florida.
Beckham has already half-kiddingly asked Neymar to sign with Inter Miami after he's done in Europe, to which the Brazilian icon jokingly responded, "David, it's done! I'll come to Miami, your city, your team." Beckham also told Futbolred that Colombians play “the soccer I want to have on my team in Miami" and that he's "spoken with a few players."
Inter Miami will get another opportunity to sell Brazilian and Colombian players on the idea of signing with the MLS club when they come to town for the friendly, and they might not even need Beckham's British charm to do so. The city does a pretty good job of selling itself. Just ask Radamel Falcao.
The 33-year-old Colombian goal-poacher — who is in limbo with France's Monaco and will miss the Brazil clash because of an injury — told Caracol in July his family would most “like to be in the U.S., maybe Miami. It’s a city where we feel very happy, where there's a big Colombian population.” Falcao would provide the star power that Miami's sports scene desperately needs, in addition to goals and the connection with the Colombian community. But what feels like an inevitable signing is still likely a year or two away. “Right now, I want to keep wrestling and fighting in Europe and remain at a high level," Falcao said in the same interview.
Other Colombian national team players who would be a good fit for Inter Miami in the near future include Juan Cuadrado, who reportedly received interest from the Chinese Super League but is more likely to stay put with Italy’s Juventus for now; Juan Quintero, who's flirted with MLS in the past; and David Ospina, owner of a luxury apartment at Paramount Miami Worldcenter.
Dani Alves, who appears to be done with Europe, could also be a realistic possibility for Inter Miami. The same goes for fellow Brazilian national team stars Fernandinho, who is no longer a regular starter for Manchester City, and Beckham's former Paris Saint-Germain teammate Thiago Silva, though it sounds like Silva's current PSG teammate Edinson Cavani is a likelier option.
“If you bring in a good Colombian or Brazilian player, it’s going to help,” Fox Sports personality and longtime Miami resident Fernando Fiore says. “Same with a Haitian player. It definitely would help to get the community more attached to the team. But is it going to make or break the team? I don’t think so. You have to win. There are small towns where there isn’t a lot to do, and the fans will stick with the team through good times and bad. It’s difficult to put people in a stadium in a city like Miami, with so many options. You can go to the beach for free on a Saturday instead of paying for a ticket to see a soccer game.”
But Fiore also understands the allure of a gig with Inter Miami. Asked if he'd be willing to listen if approached about a color-commentating opportunity, he tells New Times: "I would be more than happy to sit down with them and try to work it out. I would definitely love to do something with them. Let’s put it that way."
Max Ramos, vice president of game-day operations for the Inter Miami supporters club the Siege, echoes Fiore's sentiments regarding team recruitment. "A Colombian and/or Brazilian player would bring in fans from those communities at first, but if they’re not winning, it won’t matter," Ramos says. He also points out that Inter Miami technical director Paul McDonough has experienced the expansion process before, with Orlando City SC and Atlanta United FC: "In Orlando, he went big with the signing of Kaká, and Orlando has yet to make the playoffs in MLS. In Atlanta, he went after young South Americans like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, and Atlanta has already won an MLS Cup. So I imagine Inter Miami going the latter route."
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Ramos could be right. McDonough, discussing the impact Miami's diversity will have on on player signings, told ESPN: "The Colombians, the Salvadorans, the Haitians, they'll all cheer for a really good player no matter where he's from because they're all smart soccer fans and they want good soccer."
It's worth noting that the Miami Fusion — South Florida's last attempt at an MLS club — had the second-worst average attendance in the league during its inaugural 1998 season when Colombian legend and Afro aficionado Carlos Valderrama led the team to a playoff berth. The Fusion had the fourth-worst attendance in 2000 after earning the league's best regular-season record and then folded after that season. Some argue that the Fusion and Inter Miami shouldn't be compared because of the former's instability back in those days and its ineptitude off the field, but there's no denying the city's fickle sports fan rep remains to this day.
"Miami sports fans aren't a group that will waste money on a bad product. Winning and winning attractively will be the biggest factors," Ramos says, "as will making Inter Miami games an event to be seen at."