Facing an offseason of uncertainty, Inter Miami CF are looking at their marquee players as they move forward.
Designated Players Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi and Rodolfo Pizarro were the key players as Miami finished 11th in the Eastern Conference standings. Each player had their own moments but failed to do enough to help them stick around the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs chase through the end of 2021. The club hopes for better in 2022, though all options are on the table.
"All three DPs are under contract, we’re moving forward with our DPs, but we’re listening to all options to help us improve the team," sporting director and chief soccer officer Chris Henderson told media on a press conference.
Pizarro is the only one of the trio likely to be the subject of offers given his age and contract status. Matuidi is 34 and Higuain turns 34 next month. Pizarro, 27, is in his prime and has been the subject of an eight-figure transfer three times already in his career (Pachuca to Chivas; Chivas to Monterrey; Monterrey to Miami).
“That group of players has the potential to carry this team," Henderson added.
If all three DPs return, Miami can't add more than one U22 Initiative signing. They're also allowed to execute one offseason contract buyout a year.
Miami are grappling with how to improve the squad around those key players while dealing with sanctions from the league following an investigation into Matuidi's acquisition from Juventus. Miami will be without $2.27m in allocation money each of the next two seasons, a significant figure. Allocation money is used to buy down contract charges on the salary cap (i.e. freeing up salary space) as well as acquiring assets (i.e. players, international spots, etc.). One overly simplistic way to think about it is Miami will be without an amount of GAM that could have funded trades for Jeremy Ebobisse ($1.167m GAM) and Mark-Anthony Kaye ($1m GAM)
As such, Miami are likely to rely on a youthful group of players to make up minutes that otherwise may have gone to veterans if not for cap casualties and restraints.
“I’m very excited because Phil Neville is great at working with young players, one of the best I’ve seen on the grass," Henderson said. "I think that’s going to be an opportunity. With what we’re dealing with in the next two years, we’re going to need to rely on youth and developing those players.”
Homegrowns Edison Azcona (turning 18 this week) and Felipe Valencia (16) are two exciting talents already in the first team; Fort Lauderdale CF, Miami's second team, is likely to provide players to the first team as well.
Loans are another way that could help Miami make some cost-effective additions.
The club had US youth international Indiana Vassilev on loan from Aston Villa for the second half of the season, where he notched three goals across 793 minutes. The forward has since returned to Villa where he'll train under a new coaching staff, led by manager Steven Gerrard, but remains on Miami's radar.
“We’ve continued talks with Aston Villa, they’re going to take a look at him," Henderson said. "If Indiana is able to come back, we’d welcome him back.”
Miami have worked to start creating as much flexibility as they can. The club announced they declined all 10 contract options they had for 2022, as well as contracts expiring for three players. Henderson noted there are discussions with "several" players over a potential return.
“I feel like we now have processes that are in place which weren’t in place when I arrived," Henderson said. "This is what’s going to give us the foundation for long-term, sustained success. We’re working diligently on improving the first team.”