Five months into their inaugural season, Inter Miami CF look like your typical hard-luck expansion club – working hard and thinking big, but still winless, just a bit short of everything that’s required to contend in MLS.
Five matches so far, five losses, all by a one-goal margin, all competitive affairs that broke the wrong way from Miami’s perspective. They’ve been reasonably promising performances, but not quite at the level of Atlanta United or LAFC, the darlings of this genre to whom Inter are constantly compared, fairly or not.
Rest assured, there’s no shortage of smug satisfaction in other MLS cities at the sight of the supremely ambitious, wealthy and well-connected south Floridians struggling out of the gates.
Be careful with that, though.
Thursday’s announcement of signing Blaise Matuidi hints that Miami won’t stay down for long and provides an illustration of what makes the club – sooner or later – a contender for heavyweight status.
This is an elite central midfielder arriving from one of the world’s biggest clubs, two years removed from winning the World Cup with France, where he was dubbed “a worker in the shadows” and “indispensable” for Les Bleus, thanks to his selflessness and spirit, both on and off the pitch. He’s exactly the sort of cultured, muscular engine-room presence Miami need, and will immediately make them a tougher and better team. (By the way, he’s the only World Cup winner in MLS at present, and the entire all-time list of MLSers with that honor on their resume remains only 12 players long.)
At least some of this signing is due to Matuidi, 33, being a former teammate of club co-owner and president David Beckham at Paris Saint-Germain, the type of connection that money can’t buy. And he took a pay cut to make this move, expressing in no uncertain terms his desire to leap into a new experience for himself and his family after winning everything there is to win in Italy and France.
As a result, he’s a TAM player who won’t require a Designated Player slot, leaving space for an even bigger name to arrive in Miami at some point. All that is a reminder that Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough is very good at his job.
Are you feeling resentful of Inter Miami yet again?
Even for players who’ve tasted glory at the game’s highest summits, there’s just so much allure to Miami, Beckham and the chance to help build a brand-new club from the ground up. These are major institutional advantages and they will only grow if and when the club get their proposed permanent home venue at Miami Freedom Park.
You’ll probably hear some consternation about how Matuidi isn’t the player to draw eyes and sell tickets on the South American-flavored SoFla soccer scene. Though I suspect that perspective overlooks the potential for connecting with the Francophone roots of the region’s large Haitian-American community. Then again, it’s true that he won’t light up the city quite like the capture of, say, James Rodriguez or Cristiano Ronaldo.
No, this acquisition is more steak than sizzle, and while they’re probably benefitting from Juventus’ desire to trim their roster and wage bill, both aspects point to Inter’s pragmatism as they survey the lessons of their first five games. Matuidi and his fellow new arrival Leandro Gonzalez Pirez are substantial summer reinforcements, and thanks to COVID-19’s disruption of the European soccer calendar, he will be fairly fit and probably ready to play when he hits town.
Now that their expansion siblings Nashville SC banked their first-ever MLS victory this week, Miami remain the only pointless team in the league and as such sit at the foot of the standings. Don’t expect them to stay there for too long.