"I think we changed the way people looked at Inter Miami. There was a lot of negativity around the club and I think that changed."
A GIF is worth a thousand words:
Those, above, are the words of manager Phil Neville.
I never would’ve believed, 10 months ago, I’d have been writing a feel-good season post-mortem on Inter Miami. And six months ago, after Neville had benched star DP center forward Gonzalo Higuain – he’d stay on the bench until mid-summer – I definitely wouldn’t have believed it.
But here I am, a hundred words into a feel-good retrospective on the 2022 Inter Miami season. This one’s going to be short on tactics and high-level analysis and long on vibes, because the tactics were rudimentary and the vibes were pretty consistently incredible from mid-July onwards.
I genuinely don’t think there’s ever been an MLS season quite like the one the Herons just had. Obviously it ended in a place lots of seasons end – early in the playoffs, crushed under the boots of a mightier foe. So there won’t be any monuments to it.
But I spend a lot of my time thinking about how culture is the most important thing a club can have, and Inter Miami discarded two years of rotten, rotting culture with one hand and built up a foundation of something that feels solid and, dare I say, permanent, with the other. And they did it over the course of just a couple of months.
Formation and Tactics
Neville had Miami playing low and slow from the off, which is appropriate for a team that plays in Fort Lauderdale. If you try to run teams to death there, you’ll only end up running yourself to death over the course of the season.
So they advanced the ball slowly, and they didn’t register a ton of high-speed runs as per Second Spectrum’s tracking data, and for a long time they were really only able to conjure danger via the occasional counter.
But then they added Alejandro Pozuelo midseason for pennies, and that helped breathe life back into Higuain, and suddenly they could use the ball more in the attacking third. Playing through those two guys (Pozuelo as a classic Argie No. 10 even though he’s Spanish, and Higuain as a legendarily multi-skilled No. 9) became their identity.
At their best, in the second half of the season, they used a 4-2-3-1. Though they could toggle between that and a 4-4-2 diamond, and Neville also went with a 5-4-1 at times throughout the year.
A three-game winning streak in hand, the playoffs on the line and your biggest rivals in town. This was a dream:
This was, without question, not only the pinnacle of Miami’s season but of their entire, three-year MLS existence to this point. Wrapping up a backs-against-the-wall, 12 points-from-four-games stretch like this is legendary.
It’s the type of thing that builds culture. It’s meaningful for more than just that one moment, and you could hear it in Neville’s words 12 days later when the season ended.
“We shared some really emotional moments in the locker room with Gonzalo, who is coming to the end of an incredible career,” Neville said after the loss in Queens to NYCFC in the playoffs. “The way he feels is probably the way we all feel, in terms of emotions, being upset, the tears; we really felt that we had a chance. I think it’s a great learning experience for some of the players on that pitch to say in the offseason, ‘I need to work even harder than what I’ve been doing. I need to concentrate better than what I’m doing. I need to come back next season and be even better.’”
The other big highlight: Chris Henderson just pilfering Pozuelo from Toronto for $150k GAM. Outrageous bit of thievery.
Way back in April, when Neville more or less called Higuain out for not laying it all out there week after week, that was pretty awkward. But it says quite a bit about this group – and about both Higuain and Neville – that it eventually turned into a moment to rally around.
So I’m not sure it was a true lowlight even though it was objectively the lowest moment of the season. And losing the way they did to NYCFC… that was bad. But it was also a game that they kind of played with house money.
Like I said near the top: I’m not sure anyone’s had a season quite like this one before.
Can go in a few different directions here, from young Leo Campana showing he’s a double-digit scorer in this league (and more if he can stay healthy and play surrounded by more talent) to Bryce Duke being a super-reliable two-way central midfielder.
But the only real choice is Drake Callender, the third-year pro who got his shot at the No. 1 kit in early May, took it and didn’t give it up. They went 11W-8L-5D with him in goal, and while I don’t think he quite belonged in the Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year discussion, I wouldn’t be shocked if he got there for real next year.
I’ve also been holding Robbie Robinson stock and, welp, let’s make it three straight seasons in which the former No. 1 pick has seen his year implode via injury.
There’s still a high-quality pro in there if he can ever get physically right. But “if” is now, officially, by far the biggest word in that sentence.
Five Players to Build Around
- Gregore (DM): Solid, no-frills midfield shield and ball-winner who’s solidly in his prime. The type of player every good team needs.
- Jean Mota (CM): Solid, some-frills midfield shield and ball-mover who’s solidly in his prime. The type of player every good team needs.
- DeAndre Yedlin (RB): Came in just at the start of the year and was one of the best in the league at his position throughout.
- Christopher McVey (LB): The 25-year-old played all but 20 minutes this year, which is remarkable given the toll that weather takes. Another solid piece.
- Callender (GK): Has GKotY and USMNT upside. Arguably more important is that he’s shown, in one year, that he has a high floor.
Now the real work begins for Henderson, who’s going to get a chance to remake the entire attack this offseason if he should so choose. And he probably should remake the entire central defense while he’s at it (though I wouldn’t be too shocked if Ryan Sailor proves to be a solid MLS starter).
He’ll likely have three open DP slots. Should he bring Pozuelo back with one of those? He should definitely consider it – though it would be super interesting to slide a three-year max TAM deal Pozuelo’s way and see if that’s enough to cook with. Will bringing Campana back take up a DP slot? If so, is he really worth it?
And I guess maybe the biggest question is… is one of those DP slots earmarked for a little guy from Rosario? If that’s the case, well, Miami tried once to build a team by just collecting talent. What they learned over the past year is you have to get the team part down first.
I expect everything they do this winter to be pointed toward that, whether Messi’s coming or not.