Whatever comes of David Beckham's long-running quest to bring Major League Soccer to Miami, the city has left no doubt it will absolutely pack a stadium to watch the top fútbol teams in the world. For the past several summers, tens of thousands of fans have jammed into a sold-out Hard Rock Stadium to watch preseason friendly games between the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
So imagine the kind of buzz a real-life, regular-season La Liga game at Hard Rock would generate. It looks like that's exactly what's coming to Miami Gardens in January — and that Lionel Messi's Barcelona squad will be the team coming to town.
The Spanish league announced earlier this summer it plans to play at least one-regular season game in the States, and this morning, Barcelona and La Liga officially requested permission from soccer authorities for the Catalan giants to play that game January 26 in South Florida. Barca would play fellow Catalan side Girona, which has likewise requested permission to travel to Miami, according to Samuel Marsden, ESPN's Barcelona-based soccer correspondent.
But don't line up for tickets just yet. The idea of a La Liga game on this side of the Atlantic is extremely controversial in Spain — not least among the players who would have to endure hours of extra travel right in the middle of a grinding league campaign.
Last month, top La Liga players gathered in Madrid to talk about the plan, including Barcelona stars such as Sergio Busquets, and came away with a unified stance: They absolutely hate the idea — so much so they threatened to go on strike over the U.S. game.
“The captains are outraged, they’re against it, they are unanimous,” David Aganzo, president of the Spanish Footballers’ Association, told the BBC. “We are going to try to see that it doesn’t reach that extreme [of a strike]. But we are willing to go right to the last option if it is necessary.”
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This past Monday, players met again for several hours with Javier Tebas, La Liga's president, and came away without a specific agreement. Busquets, though, said players were at least talking about the possibility.
"We are seeking the best solution for players, fans, and football," he told reporters.
That's not the only potential hangup. A fresh firestorm kicked up last week amid reports that tens of thousands of Spanish flags would be handed out at Hard Rock Stadium and that other "political" symbols — such as possibly the home flag of Barcelona's Catalan region, which continues to agitate for independence — would be banned.
Regardless of all those seemingly huge obstacles, the league, Barcelona, and Girona are all moving forward with plans for the game. If they can find a way to get the players to sign off, South Florida might just be watching Messi score a regular-season goal at Hard Rock Stadium in a few months.