Sports

FC Barcelona Arrives in Miami, Preceded by Its Reputation

FC Barcelona's Gerard Piqué participates in practice at DRV PNK Stadium prior to the team's friendly against Inter Miami.
FC Barcelona's Gerard Piqué participates in practice at DRV PNK Stadium prior to the team's friendly against Inter Miami. Photo by Michael Reaves via Getty Images
If soccer were a religious experience — and many would argue that it is — then Tuesday's sold-out game between FC Barcelona and Inter Miami is bound to lift more spirits than Pope John Paul II's visit to the Magic City in 1987. Rather than prayers and hymns, "Cant del Barça," the club's official anthem, will be chanted from the stands and in the streets to welcome one of the winningest and most beloved teams ever to play the sport.

Though it's a friendly game — which is to say it won't register on either team's official record — a win against FCB could cause Inter Miami president, co-owner, and adopted Miamian David Beckham to jump for joy as his not-quite-two-year-old team works to build its fanbase following a recently approved 99-year lease agreement to build a 25,000-seat stadium at Miami Freedom Park by 2025.

Barça touched down in South Florida on Saturday to begin a two-week U.S. tour that kicks off tonight at DRV PNK Stadium before heading to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on July 23 to play rivals Real Madrid (local soccer fans may recall that Barça defeated Real Madrid at Hard Rock Stadium five years ago), the cavernous Cotton Bowl in Dallas on July 26 to face Italy's Juventus FC, and a July 30 match against the New York Red Bulls in that team's arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

Among the 18,000 spectators expected to attend the game, not all guests will be rooting for the home team. FCB loyalists Miami Blaugrana, an officially recognized FC Barcelona supporters club, boasts more than 150 members and often gathers at 77 Sports Bar in Coral Gables, dressed head-to-toe in the team's club gear. The bar's owner, Fernando Yanes, has been hosting FCB's devoted followers and other fútbol fanatics since he opened his doors in 2017. "You're always going to see people jumping around and screaming, roaring for their team," Yanes tells New Times. "That's always a nice experience, but we try to keep it family-friendly."

Not all eyes will be focused on the ball. Many of Barça's players continue to make headlines even as U.S. Customs stamps their passports — from defender Gerard Piqué's recent separation from longtime partner Shakira to the signing of Poland's Robert Lewandowski, one of the world's top forwards, for an estimated €42.5 million (about $43 million) to persistent speculation that midfielder Frenkie de Jong leaving for foe Manchester United.

If the fuss over FC Barcelona's time in Miami offers any sign of what the future holds for soccer in the city, then it's likely Inter Miami CF will continue to excite, expand, and explode in fandom right along with the rest of the city's unbridled growth. Is that a good thing in the long run? It certainly is for commerce, which itself is a calculated bet.
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Raj Tawney is a poet, journalist, and writer covering race and culture from his multiracial American perspective. Find him at rajtawney.com.