Inter Miami CF opened preseason Monday with a vastly different squad than their 2021 one that missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs after two consequential losing streaks.
Jettisoned are some of the club’s big-name, big-money veterans, replaced by a much younger, more athletic and “hungrier” squad, as head coach Phil Neville put it.
It’s not a final product by any means, but Neville is excited about hitting the “reset button” in 2022 after last year’s stars failed to deliver on lofty expectations in South Florida.
“I always felt we were never a team,” Neville said in a press conference Monday afternoon. “We were always a team where individuals felt they were more important than the team.”
Among the players gone is Designated Player midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro via a loan move with a purchase option to CF Monterrey in Liga MX, and defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in a similar deal with Argentina's River Plate.
Another veteran midfielder on a DP deal, Frenchman Blaise Matuidi, will reportedly be on his way out as well. The 34-year-old World Cup winner, who has one year left on his contract, didn’t participate in the club’s first preseason training session Monday.
“We’re in conversations with Blaise and we’ll have an official statement on that soon,” sporting director Chris Henderson said.
Another player who didn’t train Monday was defender Nicolas Figal, who Henderson said is working on “some green card processes” and also has interest from multiple teams. Boca Juniors have been closely linked to the Argentine.
“We have to see how those conversations go and we should know that in the next days,” Henderson said.
The last DP standing from last year’s squad is Gonzalo Higuain, who Neville said is the unquestioned face of the club. In the offseason, Neville said he had daily conversations with the 34-year-old former Juventus star about his legacy at Miami.
“He has been really strong about he wants to be remembered as a winner," Neville said. “He wants to be remembered on good terms. He wants to be remembered as someone who came to MLS and to Inter Miami and succeeded and won.”
Neville said the way Higuain trained on day one of 2022's preseason camp is an indication of the veteran’s intent and his role in helping lead a young squad.
“You look at the way he was training this morning, the physical shape he was in, that’s someone that has massive motivation to leave an outstanding legacy at this football club,” Neville said. “And he has a massively important role to play with those younger players. I told him he’s got to lead from the front, he’s got to be an example and that example starts on day one.”
A new year might bring about a new role for Higuain, who told reporters in Spanish he might play a bit deeper without a true No. 10 on the roster, joking he'll let those younger, faster players do all the running.
Their first game of 2022 comes Feb. 26 when hosting Chicago Fire FC.