Fútbol in Florida: How it started and where it’s headed   

(Photo by Chaos Soccer Gear on Unsplash)

As the Qatar World Cup has shown, soccer is a game of passion. Fanatics across the world demonstrate their enthusiasm by painting their faces in their team’s colors, wearing their favorite players’ jerseys, cheering and screaming at the top of their lungs. 

Soccer icons including Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe Lionel Messi, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe dazzle fans with their skills on the pitch. Die-hard soccer fans marvel at impressive plays, making soccer a premier sport in the United States, South America, Europe, and beyond.  

A recent report by Telemundo Deportes shows soccer as the fastest-growing team sport in America. As of 2019, soccer has gained 52% more fans than it had in 2012. This growth is much better than the other “four major sports” in the U.S.: ice hockey (+42%), basketball (+27%), baseball (+8%), and football (-7%).  

Worldwide, soccer is truly a phenomenon. However, in the United States, it is evident that Latino communities have fueled the popularity of soccer within the country. According to El American, Latinos are responsible for this 52% increase in U.S. soccer fans. The FIFA World Cup is more important to Hispanic viewers than any other sporting event. More and more Latinos have entered the United States over the past decade. As Latino influence has grown, so has soccer’s popularity. Among Latinos who =are 16 and older, 73% say they are soccer fans. 

The multicultural city of Miami, with its current reputation as a global city, is working to spread this passion for soccer within its own community and beyond. With the 2015 launch of Miami FC, the passion for soccer has been reignited and since then, the sport’s popularity in Miami has reached new heights. 

The “beautiful game” of soccer has many roots in Miami. South Florida saw its first professional team in the early 1970s. The team, originally called the Washington Darts, came to Miami from Washington, DC. They were renamed the Miami Gatos and played their first season in 1973. 

From that point on, the team was known as the Miami Toros. The Toros and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers shared fields in the Orange Bowl with the Miami Hurricanes.  

The Toros and the Strikers then went on to play at Tamiami Park. Even though the Toros made it to the championship in 1974, attendance numbers were declining in Miami. Following a couple years of little support, the Toros moved to Fort Lauderdale. The move to Fort Lauderdale gave way to soccer’s golden years in South Florida. 

Bouncing back from the struggle in Miami, Lockhart Stadium surpassed expectations as it was forced to expand from 8,000 to 11,000 seats and then to 15,000 seats. There is some amazing talent that comes from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, including German superstar Gerd Muller and Northern Ireland’s George Best.  

From 1977 to 1988, the Strikers made the playoffs every year. In 1989, they won a national championship and soccer was on everyone’s radar. The following years saw soccer clubs popping up all over South Florida. Clubs and teams such as the Miami Freedom, Miami Sharks, Coral Springs, Boca Raton, and The Miami Fusion strived to maintain Miami’s passion for soccer, but these teams eventually vanished. Miami was yearning for more soccer.  

In hopes that their hunger for soccer would be satisfied, Miami soccer fans celebrated the arrival of Miami Football Club, or better known as Miami FC in May of 2015. Today, Miami FC play home matches at Riccardo Silva Stadium located in Florida International University. The launch of Miami FC changed the landscape of sports in Miami. 

Prior to Miami FC, Miami only had football, basketball, and baseball teams. The goal of Miami FC was to give soccer fans in Miami a reason to get hyped up about having professional soccer in their city. 

Following in the footsteps of Miami FC, LA Galaxy superstar, David Beckham founded 

Inter Miami CF on January 29, 2018. Inter Miami is an American professional soccer club located in the Miami metropolitan area. Their home is the site of the former Lockhart Stadium, now known as DRV PNK Stadium. 

Beckham was awarded the 25th MLS franchise. Inter Miami launched their inaugural season in 2020. With the announcement of Inter Miami’s launch, the MLS went through a large expansion going from 26 teams in 2020 to 30 after. 

Since retiring from soccer in 2013, David Beckham’s goal was to establish a team in Major League Soccer. It helps being one of the famous icons in the world, but the establishment of Inter Miami was everything but easy. 

As he did on the soccer pitch, he proved his perseverance and stubbornness in carrying out this idea. But why Miami? The reasoning is clear. Miami is no stranger to sports with professional teams including the Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat, Miami Marlins, and Miami Hurricanes. Miami was simply missing a professional soccer team. Who better than David Beckham to make that dream a reality? 

Inter Miami’s slogan beautifully sums up what they hope to accomplish: Libertad. Unidad. Fortuna. They are writing the story of a futbol club in a soccer league. Their futbol club is born out of the very DNA of futbol- a sport for everyone that can be played anywhere. They are Inter Miami CF and South Florida is their home. 

With a global icon like David Beckham accomplishing this feat, soccer’s popularity in Miami has certainly risen, especially among the youth. 

According to the Daily Sun, soccer is among the most popular athletic activities for youth in South Florida. Kai Velmer, president of the Florida Youth Soccer Association, explains soccer’s growth from 1990 to 2021 by saying, “youth soccer is part of the fabric of our everyday life now.” 

With the establishment of Inter Miami, the youth have felt inspired to compete more and harder than ever before. These are children who try their absolute best to emulate their favorite soccer players. They themselves dream of making it to a professional soccer team. 

Clubs like Inter Miami are interested in recruiting young talent in South Florida. Such clubs want to build the soccer stars of tomorrow while providing young players with achievable pathways to reach the highest levels of the sports, the pros.  

The future of soccer in Miami is in good hands with the youth being as dedicated as ever to the beautiful game that brings joy to so many people.   

Football or Soccer?: Bringing the World Cup to Miami 

While the 2022 World Cup host Qatar has brought about an onslaught of political controversy, the joint hosts of the three North American countries for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has generated intense excitement and a newfound passion for soccer in the United States.  

Revealed this summer, 16 cities across North America will be hosting games for the next World Cup. The announcement of Miami as one of the U.S.’s 11 host cities was met with ecstatic cheers and celebration, but what will this mean for the city?  

City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez noted, “The U.S. hasn’t had a World Cup since 1994, and in those 30 years, Miami has become a dynamic, global city. All the people who live here from all over the world will be rooting for their teams. A lot of hard work was done by a lot of people to make this happen.” 

This isn’t Miami’s first big sporting event, as the 2020 NFL Super Bowl and the 2022 Miami Grand Prix Formula One race were both held at the Hard Rock Stadium. This means Miami-Dade is no stranger to the exorbitant costs that come with opening their doors for a tourist-filled event.  

The upfront costs for large events like this can be daunting. For instance, local governments in Miami-Dade spent $20 million to host the Super Bowl; these taxpayer dollars were used to cover overtime salaries for first responders as well as park improvements. However, the impact on the local economy brought by these events is incomparable. The Super Bowl allegedly brought $572 million in revenue through tourist spending. Numbers like this make local politicians anticipate the turnout from a global event like the World Cup.  

Despite the expenditures that come with hosting, Miami is expected to experience an economic boost. The audience will bring in tourists from all over the world which will spike Miami’s already-existing tourism economy. The positive economic impact will likely be tied to visitors at hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. Not only will the World Cup affect businesses and the everyday person who works in the city of Miami, but it will have a lasting influence on branding. All these values are incalculable, but it is safe to infer that the effect will be felt throughout the community.  

The World Cup will also bring in a wave of job opportunities. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava explains, “there’s going to be thousands of jobs, there will be incredible investment in our infrastructure as well as the game itself.”  

 Another possible pro of the World Cup coming to Miami would affect Inter Miami, South Florida’s Major League Soccer franchise. Earlier this year, Inter Miami was awarded a long-term lease from the city of Miami for the construction of a $1 billion stadium and commercial complex in the heart of the city, next to Miami International Airport. Jorge Mas, Inter Miami’s managing owner, hopes the complex will be ready in May 2025. He told the Miami Herald that, “he wants the planned complex to be the site of other World Cup events leading up to and during the tournament.”  

Given the attention that the World Cup will bring to the Miami area, the city’s global appeal will be strongly reinforced. It is sure to validate Miami’s status as a global city.  

Soccer is not inherently considered a popular sport in the U.S., but its rise in popularity after the host city announcements is evident. Google Trends data shows the increasing popularity of Google searches including the phrase “World Cup” throughout the U.S., particularly in northeastern states.  

Major League Soccer (MLS), the U.S.’s Men’s soccer league, has also seen an increase in attendance to games over the last few years. With a 34% increase in attendance from 2003 to 2018, MLS teams have had the sixth largest attendance across 26 international leagues.  

Google Trends data similarly shows the popularity increase of the World Cup throughout Florida, with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area having the most frequent searches of the phrase “World Cup.” While the frequency of searches is not inherently correlated to a positive outlook, the general buzz surrounding the World Cup can be seen both locally and nationally. 

The games to be played in Miami in 2026 will likely be located at the Hard Rock Stadium, Miami’s most famous sports stadium and home field of the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes. Back in 2017, Hard Rock Stadium hosted El Clasico, the highest grossing soccer match in North American history. It is when rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona clashed in a high-profile game. 

Mayor Francis Suarez commented that, “Miami has long established itself as an international epicenter for sports and culture, and as one of the most diverse and vibrant areas in the world. I couldn’t be more excited to be hosting the world’s most popular sport on the world’s largest stage. World Cup 2026, welcome home.”  

When considering potential host cities and stadiums, FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, set particular parameters regarding seating capacities. The minimum net seating capacity for the majority of games is 40,000, the minimum for semi final games is 60,000, and the minimum for the first and last games of the World Cup is 80,000. Hard Rock Stadium’s capacity is around 65,000, which means Miami may be the location for several high-stakes matches. 

Tom Garfinkel, Vice Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the Miami Dolphins is thrilled that the World Cup is coming to Miami. He stated,“The Hard Rock Stadium campus is a global entertainment destination reflective of the dynamic and international culture of Miami. We are excited to showcase our community on a worldwide stage and deliver an amazing experience and best in class event for players and fans.”  

Valeria is a senior majoring in Digital Communication with a concentration in Interactive Media and graduates next Spring. She is passionate about the aesthetic world. She also enjoys photography and producing videos.  Most of the photos and videos she takes are related to her family and her life. 

Krysty Hernandez is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Digital Broadcasting and is in the Honors College at FIU. In 2012 she obtained a BFA in Dance Theater from AMDA Performing Arts College and has pursued a career as a Professional Dancer. As a professional dancer, she has danced for various artists, TV shows, and commercials. After graduating from FIU, she would like to pursue a career as a TV anchor or reporter for a major broadcasting network.