[MLS EXPANSION]What had been billed as the first of perhaps many soccer games to be played at the new football stadium of Florida International University in Miami never occurred.
Instead, Honduras and Chile played at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale Sunday after Chile's coach, Marcelo Bielsa, refused to play on the FieldTurf surface at FIU. Honduras had scheduled the match at FIU to prepare for its Hexagonal opener Feb. 11 on the artificial surface at Saprissa Stadium in San Jose, Costa Rica, and trained on the field for more than a week.
Apparently, Bielsa and Chilean soccer federation officials weren't aware of the FieldTurf until a few days before the game and requested a change, citing the chances of injuries to players unable to get accustomed to the surface in training.
Carlos Pavon and Toronto FC midfielder Amado Guevara scored in the second half for a 2-0 Honduras win watched by a large crowd at Lockhart, the former home of the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers that also hosted the MLS Miami Fusion from 1998 until the team's demise in early 2002.
The official attendance was 12,282. The Miami Herald described the 18,000-seat stadium as "near-capacity." The FIU stadium is nearly the same size.
Whether this development hinders the bid of Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure and Barcelona president Joan Laporta to land an MLS expansion franchise in Miami isn't clear, yet league officials have already expressed concerns about the FIU facility as well as the Miami market.
Claure has been quick to reply on both counts.
"Miami has all the ingredients," says Claure, whose extensive cell-phone and communications businesses are based in the city. "Fort Lauderdale is not the place to play soccer. They don't have a stadium with the perfect capacity. We have all the ingredients, it's up to us to make it work.
"[FIU] spent $54 million to build a stadium and they play only five home games. It's brand new. It might not be the most beautiful stadium, but it's a B-plus. We are in West Miami, where all the non-
Cuban Hispanics live."
He has also clashed with MLS about starting up next year, not in the proposed next round of expansion in 2011. If serious problems develop with the Chester (Pa.) stadium project, scheduled for completion in time for the 2010 season, so goes the scuttlebutt, MLS may have no choice but to go with Miami, and push Philadelphia back to 2011.
League officials are reviewing bids from the five surviving applicants -- NFL owner Arthur Blank withdrew his Atlanta bid last week -- and MLS commissioner Don Garber last week said the plan
is still to add two teams in 2011, with Philly starting up on schedule next year.
"These are tough times but so far, sitting here where I am, I'm very confident we'll be adding two teams for 2011," said Garber during the SuperDraft in St. Louis. "We believe our two teams will be as successful as our most recent expansion teams."