He looks a bit different in pink than he did in black-and-red stripes. But there’s no denying the parallels with his Atlanta United tenure as Leandro Gonzalez Pirez arrives at Inter Miami.
The Argentine appears the perfect fit for the expansion side, who stand to benefit in both tactical and psychological terms from the addition of an aggressive, ball-playing central defender with a winning pedigree. Though his new home is a different scenario in significant ways, this is the guy who brought the fire and fearlessness to ATL’s backline to match Josef Martinez’s impact up front.
And this isn’t just about LGP, or the MLS is Back tournament, which he won’t be eligible to participate in due to the timing of his signing. This acquisition has Paul McDonough written all over it, and that should give Miami’s Eastern Conference counterparts pause.
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Inter’s sporting director built the Atlanta squad that wowed the league in its debut season and won the whole thing in year two. Most readers will recall that the Five Stripes were both slick and successful right out of the gates, charming their city and quickly shifting the paradigm for the entire league. (McDonough also constructed Orlando City’s expansion roster, and while that might not look like quite so impressive a feat, bear in mind that the Lions came closer to the playoffs in their first two MLS seasons than they have since.)
Much like Atlanta, Inter have constructed an on-field identity remarkably quickly – just ask some other recent expansion teams how difficult that can be – and LGP not only fits snugly into it, but will also speed the process with his own attributes on the pitch and in the locker room. This is a modern center back who embraces the challenges of a front-foot approach, leads by example and also happens to speak both Spanish and English, a boon for a squad with lots of Latin American flavor.
There are elements of both cleverness and coincidence in the capture of Gonzalez Pirez, who’s still only 28. The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered Club Tijuana (and many others) cash-strapped, and as The Athletic’s Felipe Cardenas notes, Miami appear to be one of the early beneficiaries of a new rule in Liga MX set to limit the number of foreigners on rosters and lineups, a change that surely influenced Xolos’ decision to part company with a player they signed barely six months ago.
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Still, decision-makers have to be ready to pull the trigger when an opportunity like that pops up in front of them, and McDonough has left room on the roster and the salary budget for just such occasions. He’s made clear that he’s not done yet, either.
“I think we'll add three significant pieces,” he told the Extratime crew last month. “We're number one in the Allocation ranking now, we'll definitely use that and then we'll add a DP and then still another TAM-level player.”
Whether or not Inter dazzle those of us who are hoping that James Rodriguez or Luis Suarez become that DP, a plan is being methodically executed down in South Florida, and it bodes well for the Herons.