Building a roster in soccer, at its core, is a high-stakes puzzle. In MLS, with the salary cap and unique roster registration rules, it’s a complex and evolving riddle.
Inter Miami CF had a few different directions they could go this offseason. They had their goals – center forward, center back and left back – but each deal would impact the next and that larger riddle. They encountered a few surprises, both good or bad, along the way.
As the dust settles in roster tetris and as preseason ramps up, Miami feel good.
The club kept on-loan forward Leo Campana via a permanent deal from Wolves and then added former MLS MVP Josef Martínez, Ukraine international center back Sergii Kryvtsov, Argentine left back Franco Negri, Argentine attacker Nicolás Stefanelli and more. All players are with the group with less than four weeks until Matchday 1, a Feb. 25 home opener vs. CF Montréal (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
“A couple of things fell into our lap and we went with it,” sporting director Chris Henderson told MLSsoccer.com. “Things will play out how they will on the field, chemistry and partnerships have to fall into place. But on paper, we feel pretty good about where we’re at.”
Josef: The centerpiece
The deal to acquire Martínez was certainly a unique one.
Martínez is a club legend for Atlanta United, but after relationships fractured, the club decided it was best to move on. Martínez had a no-trade clause and a big contract, giving him a significant level of control as to his next club. Atlanta also wanted to make sure the exit was as smooth as it could be for their all-time leading scorer and someone who helped deliver MLS Cup, US Open Cup and Campeones Cup titles.
Miami didn’t have a DP spot they could use on the deal. Atlanta acquiesced to using their sole offseason contract buyout on Martínez, freeing Miami to fit the deal under the cap.
“We were able to work together to find a solution to make it work for everyone,” Henderson said. “He was able to leave their club in the right way and we were able to make things work in our budget.”
The 29-year-old forward delivered one of MLS’s greatest-ever individual seasons in 2018, part of a pyrotechnic three-year stretch from 2017-19 in which Martínez had 77 goals and 11 assists in 83 appearances (7,007 minutes, meaning a goal contribution every 79.6 minutes). He tore his ACL on opening day in 2020, though, and hasn’t quite looked the same.
Martínez is still scoring goals anyway (21g/5a in 3,097 minutes), but doesn’t physically seem to have the same explosiveness as he once did, after he underwent numerous surgeries on that knee.
“We have to build him up in the right way,” Henderson said. “Our performance director has an individual plan for him, just like everybody else… If we can manage it right, build him up in the right way, we hope he’ll be able to play major minutes for us.”
Martínez will be a key piece to a new-look attack.
Miami made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs last season thanks in large part to a resurgence from forward Gonzalo Higuaín and a midseason boost from former MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo. Higuain has since retired and Pozuelo is still a free agent. Martínez is a known commodity in MLS and he won’t be the only familiar face.
Pizarro returns, Kryvtsov arrives
Mexico international Rodolfo Pizarro is surprisingly back from a loan and is now in the team’s plans once again. Pizarro is Miami’s club-record signing that just hasn’t panned out, with just 7g/12a in two seasons before spending 2022 on loan at Liga MX’s CF Monterrey.
“His mentality has been great… For me, it’s about how can we best use him to set up our strikers,” Henderson said of Pizarro. “He should be getting into positions where he’s getting 10 to 15 assists in this league, and a few goals. That’s the expectation for him. As a DP, you set the bar high.”
Defensively, Kryvtsov arrives from Shakhtar Donetsk to be the new anchor.
Miami had talks to potentially sign the Ukrainian a few months ago, but a deal ended up not being possible and it looked like they would need to pursue other targets. Recently, talks were revived and Kryvtsov is with the group.
“We’re thrilled to add him,” Henderson said. “He’s very experienced. His composure on the ball, he’s so calm. He’ll help our other central defenders to keep calmness back there.”
Kryvtsov, who turns 32 in mid-March, has 31 caps for his home country and won 17 titles during his 13-year spell with Shakhtar.
“He’s won so many trophies for his club, played 30-something times for Ukraine,” Henderson said. “He comes here with a history he can rely on and share with teammates. When he said goodbye to his teammates in Shakhtar, some of them were crying. He had that much of an impact. He’s captain material.”