Inter Miami have a roster compliance problem on their hands.
The club are currently subject to a league investigation into the signing of Blaise Matuidi, who joined last summer on a non-Designated Player deal. The investigation, which head coach Phil Neville said he expected a resolution from imminently a few weeks ago, still has yet to be determined.
“Nothing new on the Matuidi investigation, we’re waiting,” sporting director Chris Henderson told media on a virtual press conference Tuesday. “It’s in the league’s hands at this moment. I don’t really have anything to report, just kind of wait and see.”
Henderson, who joined the club this winter as sporting director, noted that, at the moment, Matuidi is counting as a DP. That would mean Inter Miami have four DPs on their roster and one would not be able to be registered to the active roster.
MLS clubs need to be roster compliant by opening day.
“With our DP situation, we’re waiting for decisions from the league level,” Henderson said. “We have four DPs at the moment. That’s a work in progress. Roster compliance is next week, we need to work on things and we’re continuing to work on things to get compliant.”
Matuidi, Gonzalo Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro and Matias Pellegrini are currently all DPs. The reported acquisition costs on Higuain and Pizarro land them far beyond the threshold to be bought down with allocation money. Depending on the resolution of the Matuidi investigation, he wouldn’t be eligible to be bought down either.
That leaves Pellegrini.
With the league having indicated that it will be launching a new U-22 initiative this offseason to encourage clubs to sign and invest in players under the age of 23, Pellegrini is young enough where he could theoretically be moved to that designation, but the initiative is yet to be announced and a league source tells MLSsoccer.com he is not expected to qualify for the tag due to his salary.
There are expected to be certain thresholds for salary that would make a player ineligible for the initiative, regardless of age.
If that's the case, one of the four DPs wouldn’t be able to be registered. That would likely mean a loan or transfer for one, or even a contract buyout.
Pellegrini could then be the most likely of the four DPs to be moved, a source says. A loan deal is something that would make sense for the club and player, as Miami remain high on Pellegrini's talent, potential and future despite a difficult first season in MLS, but that doesn't come without headaches either. Many transfer windows across the globe are shut, including in his native Argentina as well as other potential landing spots like Mexico, Colombia and most European leagues. The transfer windows in Brazil and Uruguay remain open, however.
The winger was acquired ahead of the club’s expansion season from Estudiantes and had a goal and two assists in 19 appearances (12 starts). The now 21-year-old was reportedly signed for between a $6-9 million transfer fee, showing the club's belief in him, but also making it extremely unlikely, if not impossible, his cap hit could be bought down with allocation money.
Miami will continue to explore all options as they await the resolution of the league's investigation ahead of MLS's roster compliance date.
The LA Galaxy faced this problem in 2019 with four DPs after re-signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They ultimately chose to buy Giovani dos Santos out of his contract to become roster compliant, making the former Mexico international a free agent. That's a route Miami could go with one of their four DPs as well.
Whatever the outcome, Miami’s DP problem is one of the biggest MLS stories to keep an eye on as we get closer to opening day.