Deep in the heart of Wynwood on Thursday morning, as Art Basel visitors roamed the nearby streets, Argentine soccer dignitaries gathered on the eighth floor of an office building to inaugurate the new U.S. headquarters of their national soccer federation.
A gigantic mural of Argentine soccer icon Lionel Messi graced the side of the building, at the corner of N.W. 28th St and 2nd Ave, and street vendors sold his pink Inter Miami jerseys from the backseats of their cars.
Just like Messi, the Association del Futbol Argentino (AFA) has decided to make Miami its new home base in advance of the 2024 Copa America and the 2026 World Cup. Argentina is the defending champion of both tournaments and will be a top draw for U.S. fans and sponsors as the Copa America is being hosted in the United States from June 20 to July 14 and two years later the World Cup will be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Miami will host three Copa America matches at Hard Rock Stadium, including the final, and is also one of the World Cup host cities.
The new 5,100 square-foot AFA office in Wynwood will be used by the federation’s commercial, media, marketing, ticketing and scouting departments and will also serve as a gathering space for events surrounding the two tournaments. Among those in attendance Thursday for the ribbon cutting were: AFA president Claudio “Chiqui” Tapia, CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez, and former national team players Javier “Pupi” Zanetti and Maxi Rodriguez.
In addition to the new office, AFA plans to break ground on two South Florida training facilities in early spring 2024. One will be at a new site in North Bay Village and the other will be a renovation of Goodlet Park in Hialeah and will include two regulation fields and six 5v5 fields. Both locations will also include offices for coaches and referees and training rooms.
The AFA’s U.S. expansion is part of the federation’s long-range “aggressive strategy” to strengthen the national team, broaden the Argentina brand around the world and unearth and develop young talent, said Leandro Petersen, the AFA Chief Commercial and Marketing Officer.
AFA has established commercial partnerships and offices in China, India and the Middle East, and continues to expand the Albiceleste footprint in the United States. American Express, Coca Cola and McDonald’s are among AFA’s sponsors. Miami was the perfect place to set up shop, Petersen said.
“Miami will be the epicenter of our U.S. project, a permanent presence and fundamental pillar of our U.S. expansion,” Petersen said. “There are many American companies eager to be associated with the Argentine national team, and in the United States we have millions of fans and there is a huge Latin American population here. We want to be the biggest global soccer brand in this country and conquer the market here.”
The fact that Messi is playing for Inter Miami is a bonus.
“We embarked on this Miami project in 2021, before we knew Messi would be here,” Petersen said. “Obviously, when we heard he might come here and then it materialized, that was impressive for us because it increases the potential of all we do with him as the primary ambassador of Argentine soccer, he and [Diego] Maradona. Even after he stops playing, he and Diego will remain the biggest figures in the history of our football.”
The AFA training facilities will not only provide a place for national team player to prepare for tournaments, but also a developmental path for young players, especially those with Argentine roots.
“We know there are tons of Latinos and Argentineans living here, kids who are being raised here by Argentine parents, and this is an opportunity for us to monitor those kids who are playing in academies in Miami, Florida and other regions,” Petersen said. “Those kids have talent because it’s in their blood. We can start to follow them; and our scouts can come see them and set them up with an Argentine-style training plan.”
He pointed out that AFA has already had success with dual nationals in Europe such as 19-year-old Alejandro Garnacho of Manchester United and 20-year-old Franco Carboni of AS Monza.
“There is no ceiling to what we can accomplish on and off the field, and Miami will be the epicenter of it all,” Petersen said.
AFA is the latest soccer body to have a Miami base. FIFA opened an office in Coral Gables last summer and CONCACAF is headquartered in downtown Miami.