Lockhart Stadium and Inter Miami training facility rendering - March 2019

Most of the attention will remain on their evolving stadium situation and the building of their inaugural roster, but Inter Miami have another urgent item on their agenda: Their academy.

It was announced three weeks ago that the 2020 MLS expansion club was accepted into U.S. Soccer Development Academy for the 2019-20 season, which is scheduled to kick off in late summer. The club will field U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16/U-17 and U-18/U-19 teams in their first academy season, though plenty of work remains before any of those squads will take the field.

They’ve hired several academy coaches, including former Real Salt Lake star Javier Morales, but Miami are still interviewing academy director and coaching candidates. They’re also just now beginning to put together their youth rosters. Staff have scouted more than 6,000 players in the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties and the Naples and Fort Myers areas for the region’s top talent. Five hundred players were invited to try out for the academy. Training sessions to determine each roster will begin next week.

“We’re making some progress,” Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough told MLSsoccer.com last week. “We’re starting to really add academy staff and some support staff around that, which is important. The academy is really the next big thing on our agenda, our next big milestone.”

McDonough came to Miami after two and a half years with Atlanta United, who got their academy program off the ground extremely quickly. Notably, the Five Stripes ended up signing a pair of Homegrown Players – Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin – months before the club’s first MLS match. Three more Homegrowns were signed less than three months after the club’s March 2017 debut.

Atlanta were able to scale up so quickly in large part due to their decision to absorb Georgia United, an established Atlanta-area youth club that qualified for the Development Academy U-16 national semifinals in July 2015. Atlanta United took technical control of Georgia United’s U-16 and U-18 teams in the 2015-16 season, then fully integrated them under the ATL UTD banner for the 2016-17 DA campaign. Georgia United players started banking time toward Homegrown status starting with the 2015-16 season, a development that allowed both Carleton and Goslin to accrue the required 12 months in an MLS academy for both to sign Homegrown deals before Atlanta United kicked off in MLS.

Miami no longer have the time to pull off that kind of maneuver. They could partner with a local youth club to kickstart their nascent academy, but they won’t for now. Instead of absorbing or working exclusively with one of the four boys’ DA clubs in South Florida, Miami is communicating with all of them. And while some MLS clubs have rankled youth teams in the past over perceptions that they’ve poached players, McDonough said that Miami’s relationships with the top South Florida youth clubs are off to a good start.

“I’ve actually met with all of them and we talked about it and the right thing to do was not to partner with any one, and that was received really well by the clubs,” he said. “They’ve been really, really supportive with that approach. … They knew what we were doing. They know it’s inevitable. MLS has been coming in here, the academies have been coming in and taking kids out for so many years, they would just prefer, they know they’re going to lose players, they just want to keep them in South Florida.”

Miami also plan to keep their focus entirely local. That’s a departure from the trend of many MLS teams recruiting players to their academies from out of their Homegrown territory.

“The one thing that’s really, really important for us is we make our academy 100 percent about South Florida kids,” said McDonough. “We don’t want to go outside and import kids from other parts of the country. If you’re going to build a successful club, I think you have to start with the grassroots… and we have to build out our youth academy locally.”

Of course, any discussion about Inter Miami inevitably returns to location. The club announced that they’ll play at least the 2020 and 2021 MLS seasons in a newly constructed temporary home at the site of Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The club will also build their first team training facility and house their academy and USL team at that site, which is centrally located in the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach tri-county area but 35 miles north of where they’re hoping to build their permanent stadium in Miami.

A significant commute will be on the docket for any youth players coming to Fort Lauderdale from Miami or points south. A club spokesperson told MLSsoccer.com that Inter Miami are committed to assisting with the costs and burden of getting players to and from Fort Lauderdale for training, though the exact nature of that commitment is unlikely to be finalized until after rosters are selected. The spokesperson also noted that Miami are in the process of finalizing a temporary home for their academy teams to train and host games before the Fort Lauderdale facility opens next year.