Has Miami Blown Its Shot at Major League Soccer?

Another Major League Soccer season edges toward a close this weekend as four teams fight for a spot in the final. Tomorrow could be Thierry Henry's last game. Sunday could be the same for U.S. legend Landon Donovan.

No matter which teams make the final, however, the biggest loser could be Miami. It's been almost six months since David Beckham's plan for an MLS team was blocked by local politicians. Now a host of new factors could mean Miami has missed its shot at a soccer team.

"If we can't get the right stadium, we can't go to Miami," MLS commissioner Don Garber said recently.

Beckham burst onto the South Florida sporting scene in February when he announced he was exercising his option to launch his own MLS team and had chosen Miami as the location.

"We are very excited about this project," Beckham said at the time. "Miami... is a vibrant city. It's a city with a lot of passion. And I know this city is ready for football -- soccer -- this time around. I know that this is going to be successful."

But after a honeymoon of several months, Beckham and his group -- Miami Beckham United -- suffered a pair of unexpected setbacks. First, their pitch for a privately funded stadium on Dodge Island (next to PortMiami) was overwhelmingly rejected by county commissioners.

Next, another waterfront proposal -- this time next to AmericanAirlines Arena in what is now the FEC boat slip -- was axed by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

Since then? Crickets.

"I've heard nothing," Marc Sarnoff says. "I have heard zero from them for about five months." He would be one to know too, as the city commissioner for downtown's waterfront. Both Beckham and MLS have said they want a downtown, waterfront stadium in Miami.

Sarnoff says that after the FEC location fell through, he suggested the Miami Herald's old site. "That's the only waterfront site left," he says. "It's just a process of elimination."

But those discussions also broke down.

"The only thing I have sort of heard is that their conversations did not go well with the Genting folks," Sarnoff says of the company that owns the old Herald property.

The commissioner admits there is now a "distinct possibility" that Miami won't get an MLS team.

"I can't say the word 'concerned,'" he says, adding he has hope something will still happen. "I don't know anybody who would turn their back on the Miami market."

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is also concerned that the soccer talk has gone quiet.

"The mayor still believes that the first two sites were very viable, and he regrets very much that they were taken off the table," spokesman Mike Hernández says.

Hernández says the mayor hasn't talked to Beckham's group in several months. At one point, there was a push to find a location along the Miami River, Hernández says. "But that was not going to work because it's completely privately owned."

"The mayor is still confident that we will have MLS in Miami-Dade County," Hernández says, "and he's obviously willing to help to identify a site."

Beckham's camp insists things are OK.

"Things are progressing well in Miami, and we are very much on track in our plans," said a statement from Miami Beckham United. "David is very positive about the future of the club, and he continues to enjoy incredible support from the people in Miami. We hope to announce some exciting news soon."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.