David Beckham’s new soccer team finally got to play soccer.
After more than six years of planning — and a process that was at times brutally difficult — Inter Miami took the field for the first time Monday. The expansion MLS club’s inaugural training camp opened at Barry University, with about two dozen players on the field.
“It’s real,” said Paul McDonough, Inter Miami’s sporting director. “Every day we do something, every milestone we hit, everything becomes more real.”
Beckham wasn’t at the workout and is not expected in town for a few more weeks. McDonough has been with the club for the last year and a half or so and is still working on a final roster, with about a half-dozen more signings expected in the coming weeks. He watched much of the session from a far corner. Coach Diego Alonso, who will be introduced Wednesday, bounced from group to group, barking instructions.
McDonough was up at 2 a.m., eight hours before the first training session, with all sorts of thoughts going through his mind — construction that still needs to be finished and deals that still need to be signed among them.
To say he was a bit anxious may have been an understatement.
“One of the things about being in Miami is the fans do have very high expectations,” McDonough said. “The fans are very educated here so they’re going to hold us to a very high standard, which I think is OK. We want that type of pressure.”
Inter Miami’s players gathered for the first time as a group over the weekend, sharing a team dinner on Saturday night. Alonso, who is not yet comfortable speaking English, addressed the team at that dinner and set the tone for training camp.
In any language, his message got through.
“His introduction, I thought, was incredible,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles, the MLS goalie of the year for the 2015 season and who spent the last eight seasons with the New York Red Bulls. “After he spoke, I was ready to go train. Except it was 8 o’clock at night, so I’m glad we didn’t train.”
Beckham was in Miami looking at potential stadium sites on June 1, 2013 — 2,424 days before his team would hold its first practice. The AP reported that Beckham had officially picked Miami on Oct. 29, 2013. Beckham himself came to town to announce that very decision on Feb. 5, 2014.
“Today,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that day, “professional soccer is a reality in Miami.”
“Today” was a relative term. Practice wouldn’t happen for another six years.
There were more than a half-dozen sites under consideration at various times, and even that remains somewhat in flux. Inter Miami will play its home opener March 14 at a still-getting-completed complex in Fort Lauderdale — at the site of the now-demolished Lockhart Stadium, where the Miami Fusion spent three seasons in MLS before folding because of poor attendance in 2001.
“The stadium is on schedule,” McDonough said.
The team still wants to build a stadium in Miami. When, or if, that will happen is a matter for another day. For now, there’s a roster to complete and countless details to attend to before the team’s first competitive game on March 1 against Los Angeles FC.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while,” said Matias Pellegrini, the team’s highly touted 19-year-old Argentine midfielder. “Can’t wait to get started.”