David Beckham is now officially on the brink of finally being awarded an MLS expansion franchise for Miami.
Major League Soccer owners voted Wednesday to move into final stages with the soccer icon toward closing the deal on his long-awaited team, one that may begin play in a new Miami stadium in 2020. Beckham has been trying to bring a team to Miami for more than four years through his right to pay $25 million for an expansion franchise.
"We're not announcing MLS Miami today," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "But I am confident that we'll be able to do that sometime, perhaps by the end of the summer. We do have some things that we need to work through."
The vote in Chicago - site of owners meetings that preceded the MLS All-Star Game - allows Garber and a committee of other league owners to proceed on the final things that need to be done before the franchise can be officially awarded. Garber indicated that the process could be wrapped up in as little as a couple weeks.
"We're getting really, really, really close," Garber said.
Beckham and one of his partners - Todd Boehly, who Garber said will serve as the majority owner of the Miami club - met with owners for a portion of the Wednesday meeting, discussing both his soccer past and soccer future. His pitch, Garber said, was passionate and detailed everything from his plans for a stadium to why he came to play in the U.S. in the first place.
"It's the first time he met with our owners and talked about what his vision is," Garber said.
Garber also pointed to the success of two exhibitions in Miami last week - including a matchup between Real Madrid and Barcelona - as proof that the South Florida market is ready for MLS again. "El Clasico" drew more than 66,000 fans to the match last Saturday, and nearly another 40,000 bought tickets the night before just to watch the sides practice.
"It's passionate about the game," Garber said of the Miami market. "David has been spending a great deal of time ... working hard with his partner Simon Fuller to try to finalize this deal. They've committed an enormous amount of time and resources and everything really is in place for us to do what we need to do."
There are still some hurdles to clear, including a legal challenge surrounding a $9 million land purchase of a county plot that Beckham's group wants to use for its 25,000-seat planned stadium.
County resident Bruce Matheson sued last month to stop the county's land sale to the Beckham group, saying state law was violated by the lack of a bidding process.
Matheson owns property about a quarter-mile away from the plot in question, and that he will be "substantially and adversely affected" by what he contends will be increased traffic, congestion, noise and a decline in property values if the stadium is built. He also said he would purchase the land the Beckham group is buying for the same $9 million price.
County officials are confident that the deal struck with Beckham is legal, and will hold up if taken to court.
"We believe the time is right, finally, for Miami to become a great Major League Soccer city," Garber said.