Inter Miami’s expansion season wasn’t quite what the club’s visionaries had in mind, nor what was promised as the club marched towards their inaugural season. True to their word, those in charge have made major steps to address that disappointment this winter.
In came a new sporting director (Chris Henderson) and head coach (Phil Neville) this offseason to implement a new vision and lay a new culture. While the club’s biggest names from 2020 remain, a big turnover in the rest of the squad is well underway as Miami aim much higher in 2021.
Can Neville silence doubters citing his friendship with David Beckham and prove he’s the right man for this pressure-filled job?
- MLS Reg. Season: 10th place in Eastern Conference (24 pts - 1.04 PPG - 7-13-3, -10)
- Audi MLS Cup Playoffs: Eliminated in Play-In Round by Nashville SC, 3-0
After just one goal in 800 MLS minutes following a mid-season move from Juventus, Higuain has largely been granted the benefit of the doubt. Small sample size, team not performing great around him and the difficulties of adapting to MLS mid-season, during a pandemic no less. It’s make or break in 2021 for the former Real Madrid marksman, though, with his goals the most important currency for Neville’s side this season.
The Mexican international is the club’s other top dog in attack. Neville has said as much, calling Pizarro and Higuain “the icing and cherry on top of the cake.” Pizarro had four goals and five assists in his debut MLS campaign. His talent suggests there’s much more to come.
LGP anchors a Miami backline hoping for the kind of year one to year two jump he experienced in Atlanta. He was an original member of the club and helped guide the team to MLS Cup in their second season, then the US Open Cup and Campeones Cup in their third before heading to Club Tijuana for half a season.
Young Player to Watch
Neville has name-checked Robinson a few times in preseason press conferences. The 2020 MLS SuperDraft top overall pick endured a stop-start rookie campaign, and will have to fight to earn minutes up top, but has the talent to do so. Keep an eye on homegrown midfielder Edison Azcona, too, as he enjoyed a strong performance at Olympic qualifying with the Dominican Republic.
- Gregore: On paper, Gregore is the absolute perfect fit in a midfield trio next to Blaise Matuidi and behind Pizarro. The Brazilian is a prototypical ball-winning defensive midfielder, someone Henderson had identified and scouted for years before taking over in Miami: “He has a great engine and brings balance and stability to the central midfield.”
- Kelvin Leerdam: One of two on-field additions who made their name in Seattle, Leerdam helps a defensive makeover in year two for Miami, likely slotting in as the starting right back. Leerdam made three MLS Cups in four seasons with the Sounders and was regarded among the top right backs in the league.
- Kieran Gibbs: Though he won’t join until the summer, Gibbs is expected to be Miami’s starting left back once he arrives. The former Arsenal defender is wrapping up a season in the Premier League for a West Brom side hoping to stave off relegation. The 31-year-old made 229 appearances with Arsenal and more than 100 with West Brom.
- Wil Trapp: Off to Minnesota after one season in Miami, Trapp made 16 starts during the club’s expansion season. Gregore is his de facto replacement, signaling a mentality shift of what the club wants from Matuidi’s midfield partner.
- Andres Reyes: Reyes, too, is staying in MLS. Miami declined the Colombian youth international’s purchase option, then the New York Red Bulls swooped in and acquired the center back from Atletico Nacional.
- Ben Sweat: It’s another expansion season for Sweat, traded to Austin FC after starting 20 of Miami’s 23 matches in their inaugural season. Brek Shea is back to find minutes at left back until Gibbs joins in the summer as the presumed starter.
Projected Starting XI
- Goalkeepers (3): Drake Callender, Dylan Castanheira, John McCarthy
- Defenders (11): Nicolas Figal, Ian Fray, Kieran Gibbs, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Kelvin Leerdam, Christian Makoun, Dylan Nealis, Jairo Quinteros, Patrick Seagrist, Ryan Shawcross, Brek Shea
- Midfielders (13): George Acosta, Edison Azcona, Jay Chapman, Gregore, Federico Higuain, Joevin Jones, Blaise Matuidi, Lewis Morgan, Matias Pellegrini, Josh Penn, Rodolfo Pizarro, Victor Ulloa, Felipe Valencia
- Forwards (3): Julian Carranza, Gonzalo Higuain, Robbie Robinson
Armchair Analyst’s Breakdown
- Strength: That right side, with Morgan on the wing and Leerdam overlapping, should in theory be one of the league’s best, and with Gregore as a d-mid, they’ll have an in-his-prime destroyer capable of providing cover for when Leerdam pushes up on the overlap.
- Weakness: All of the above is just theory. In practice, Miami were one of the most inconsistent teams in MLS last year and added a ton of new variables this offseason in the form of new signings and a new coach. The range of possible outcomes with this team is as wide as anybody in the league.
- Charles Boehm: 13th in East
- Tom Bogert: 10th in East
- Susannah Collins: 11th in East
- Charlie Davies: 10th in East
- Matthew Doyle: 11th in East
- Sam Jones: 9th in East
- Michael Lahoud: 7th in East
- Joe Lowery: 11th in East
- Jillian Sakovits: 7th in East
- Greg Seltzer: 6th in East
- Steve Zakuani: 11th in East