Former Italy defender Paolo Maldini has beaten England icon David Beckham to the punch in launching a professional football club in Miami.

As Beckham’s plans for a Major League Soccerfranchise in Miami remain in limbo, Maldini announced Thursday he was joining entrepeneur Riccardo Silva in launching Miami FC to begin play in the North American Soccer League in 2016.

“I strongly believe in the growth of soccer in the USA, and this is the perfect project to develop a top-classsoccer team in one of the most important cities in the world,” Maldini said. 

“We believe that the fast-growing NASL will be the perfect platform to develop a successful team and a valuable business.”

The NASL, now a second-tier league behind MLS, enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s, when such global icons as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and George Best were lured Stateside to spread the gospel of soccer.

In December, Brazilian football legend Ronaldo signed on as a part owner of the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, adding another touch of star-power to the league featuring the re-booted New York Cosmos, who in October announced the signing of Real Madrid legend Raul.

As Miami FC and the Strikers gear up for competition in South Florida, Beckham’s efforts to launch an MLS franchise in Miami continue to be held up by the inability to find a location for a football-specific stadium. – Agence France-Presse

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