At Inter Miami, an encouraging pan-American feel, with defense first

Inter Miami pan-American

Miami, Florida — After a long and circuitous journey to MLS off the pitch, Inter Miami are nearly ready to begin life on it next month.

Less than a month ahead of the club’s inaugural game at LAFC March 1, Sporting Director Paul McDonough’s roster is beginning to take shape after a busy few weeks that has seen Inter Miami sign and trade for a host of new faces.

In just the last two weeks, the Herons — yes, the bird on the crest is a heron — have signed Argentine center back Nicolás Figal from Club Atlético Independiente. There, he made over 100 appearances in the Argentine Superliga. Inter Miami also traded for longtime MLS defensive midfield stalwart and erstwhile US international Wil Trapp. Finally, the club brought in young Celtic winger Lewis Morgan.

Inter Miami may not be done either. The club has spent the last week or so attempting to lure Mexican attacking magician Rodolfo Pizarro to Fort Lauderdale. Right now, the two sides are apparently stuck only on buyout figures. Pizarro would be a huge splash for a team that, at least to date, has signed smart but not flashy. The addition of Pizarro would not only excite fans in South Florida —where Liga MX viewing numbers are among the highest in the country and a name like Pizarro moves the needle — it would help solve one of the lingering soccer questions about Inter Miami: how will the team attack in manager Diego Alonso’s preferred counterattacking system.

Building blocks are Defensive Pieces

With or without Pizarro, the club’s build over the last two months has been encouraging. McDonough’s track record as a builder, which includes helping shape an Atlanta United roster that won MLS Cup in only its second season, always inspired confidence. However, until Inter Miami settled on a manager, it was hard to know exactly what the club’s vision would be. Now, a few weeks from game one, what Inter Miami is and can be in the team’s first season is becoming more clear.

First, it is evident Diego Alonso’s club will defend.

Inter Miami have put together a roster with deep, proven defenders ,with alluring younger talents like Nicolás Figal to salty, MLS battle-tested veterans like A.J. DeLaGarza, Alvas Powell and Román Torres. Guys like DeLaGarza and Torres in particular, who won’t have to play 90 minutes a game but will steady a locker room full of young talent, beckon back to McDonough’s formula in Atlanta. In Atlanta, steely veterans like Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz became essential foundational pieces on a roster brimming with young star power.

That diverse, steady defensive group will improve by the addition of Trapp. For all his struggles with the tempo of the international game, he has been a stalwart of a shielder in MLS. And, at only 27, Trapp has plenty of good football ahead of him. On paper, then, this roster is one of the better defensive groups in the league.

That’s a good tactical fit for Diego Alonso too, a point undoubtedly considered in the build.

Leaning on the Pan-American talent pool

Alonso’s successful Liga MX sides were pragmatic, defense first outfits that were content to cede harmless possession, stay compact and pick off chances with electric players on the break. While there are questions about whether counterattacking football will sell in Miami, winning sells in south Florida above all. McDonough and David Beckham are quietly putting together a roster suitable for this brand of football.

Those worried that Inter Miami may play a style too bland for the demanding south Florida market are overlooking the other big theme in this club’s build. Well aware of the communities they will represent, McDonough and the Inter Miami ownership group have put together a roster with a lovely, pan-American feel that suits south Florida like sandals and loose-fitting linens.

The club has inked two sensational young Argentine talents, Matías Pellegrini and Julián Carranza, to deals and added Venezuelan Christian Makoun to the mix as well. These signings give the club three South American teenagers from countries well-represented among the South American Miami immigrant diaspora. That each of these players makes good soccer sense of course matters as well — but McDonough has bet big on young South American talent before, see Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron — and won that bet.

If Carranza, a big-time talent who has featured for Argentina’s youth national teams, and Pellegrini, a versatile midfielder who can play inside or outside and is stylish on the ball, pay off — the formula will both sell tickets and win games. Adding the likes of a Pizarro to that formula would only bolster the team’s potential to play exciting, counterattacking soccer.

Early outlooks for Inter Miami

As presently constructed, the SPI, for whatever value you place in that metric, likes what Inter Miami have built. The metric gives the Herons a 65 percent chance of making the Eastern Conference Playoffs. That’s something that hasn’t happened among a Florida MLS side since the Fusion’s last gasp at Lockhart in 2001. Meanwhile, the SPI also tracks a surprisingly optimistic 9 percent chance to finish atop the East. That 1 in 10 chance in the East may be a bridge too far. However, if you look at this roster up against inevitable rival Orlando City, or expansion brothers Nashville, it’s hard not to be bullish on Inter Miami.

Winning is always going to be what motivates the Miami and Fort Lauderdale market.
Outside of the Heat, there’s not a professional or college team in South Florida that consistently draws big crowds. Miami and Fort Lauderdale are event towns and winner’s towns and always will be. Still, in building a club that reflects the pan-American diaspora on the field and has a chance to play stylish football on it, Inter Miami are giving themselves a chance to sell and win — even after the novelty of soccer’s return to South Florida wears off.

That’s as good a place to start as any.


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