For one day, international soccer gives Marlins Park different feel
MIAMI — While the Miami Marlins visited the Atlanta Braves, another team called Marlins Park home Wednesday night.
For the first time since opening in April 2012, the venue held an in-season sporting event as "host" AS Monaco beat Atletico Nacional 4-2 in a Copa EuroAmericana soccer match.
Although Nacional lost, their green-and-white-clad faithful — the large majority of the 15,102 in attendance — cheered to the beat of drums for the full 90 minutes. The sound filled the South Florida air with both the roof and operable wall open.
They traveled from New York, Atlanta — even Stamford, Connecticut — to watch their favorite team, which captured last season’s league and cup championship in Colombia. Each group brought a large banner representing what region of the United States it hails from. Another fittingly stated "Pasion sin frontera" — passion without border.
"I was on the field at one point and I heard these guys come in with their drums and they came on really strong and began throwing this printer paper on the field just before the game," said Claude Delorme, Marlins executive vice president of operations and events. " ‘It’s going to be a little bit different than baseball.’ "
Juan Posada, a college student, attended the match with his girlfriend. He was born in Colombia but has been living in the United States for more than a decade.
"It’s something great because I haven’t been to Colombia in years and to be able to see the team that I grew up loving is a great experience," Posada said. "They come from all over the United States to see our team play. That’s pretty amazing for our country."
Posada has been to Marlins Park for a couple of baseball games. He was in awe of how it transformed over the course of a few days.
Delorme said once the Marlins defeated the San Francisco Giants 3-2 on Sunday afternoon, the grounds crew began removing the clay between first and third base. The sod to replace the infield dirt arrived Monday night. It was installed over the course of 10 hours.
All but one of the goals went into the net placed in right field — the same place slugger Giancarlo Stanton can be found at home games. The home run sculpture, however, didn’t go off.
"This stadium is amazing," Posada said. "It’s super nice, it’s huge. The setup for the soccer field is great."
Chants of ole broke out. Noisemakers were in full supply. Los del sur — of the South — stood for the match’s entirety much like undergrads at a college football game.
Delorme said the atmosphere felt more like the World Baseball Classic. Marlins Park hosted second-round games in 2013.
"As soon as people come to baseball games, especially with the humidity, they go right inside and want to be climatized and go to their food," Delorme said. "They won’t wait outside. I would say a large part of this clientele stayed. They knew the game started at 8, so they started coming in at 7:50, 7:55. Very different profile from what we’re used to. And the flags.
"This has more of a World Baseball Classic feel for me. A lot of energy, lot of music, a lot of dancing. Half of it is the social setting and just being in a group setting and cheering for your country or team. It’s nice to watch."
Others, like Jeff Whitney of Fort Lauderdale, didn’t have an allegiance to either team. He and his son, Timothy, still had soccer fever from this month’s World Cup. Timothy even wore his Germany jersey on Wednesday. Whitney bought the tickets a week ago after hearing about the event through his team’s goalkeeper.
The match was still an enticing draw despite the departure of James Rodriguez, the World Cup’s Golden Boot winner, to Real Madrid. Radamel Falcao, Colombia’s most-famous soccer player and a member of AS Monaco, didn’t play as he continues recovering from ACL surgery. He received a huge ovation as he left the pitch following the match.
"It’s nice to see a bigger crowd than I expected and all the enthusiasm," Whitney said.
As for upcoming events, Marlins Park will host the legends of Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona for an exhibition match on Sept. 11. The only other soccer match took place in November 2012 between Nigeria and Venezuela.
Asked by FOX Sports Florida whether David Beckham’s future MLS club could play in Little Havana, Delorme said it remains up in the air.
"We’ve told him that we’re interested in being the temporary home," Delorme said. "He knows that we would welcome the opportunity if it presents itself. He’s got a great brand and great vision for the game. We wish him the best and we hope it’s going to be in Miami. We can help him in any way going forward.
"For us it’s always conversion costs. The conversion from one sport to the next. We play baseball on Mondays, so our preoccupation is making sure we can get the field back to the standards of Major League Baseball and that we don’t damage the field as a result of a concert or soccer game, football game, etc."