Editorial — MLS returns to South Florida after a nearly two-decade hiatus this season when Inter Miami CF makes their long-awaited and oft-debated MLS debut.
The glitz and glamour of Miami, coupled with the franchise’s star-studded ownership group — which includes global footballing icon David Beckham and American Idol creator Simon Fuller, among others — mean the club is sure to be a media attraction in 2020. But how will they do at the gate, especially given years of coming up short politically means a club branded as “Miami’s futbol club” will actually play to the north in Fort Lauderdale? And will manager Diego Alonso, known for his pragmatic, results-first brand of management, cultivate a style that is appealing to a sports market as fickle as the one in South Florida?
We will soon find out.
Here are three big questions for Inter Miami ahead of their inaugural season.
Who will score the goals?
Sporting Director Paul McDonough, one of the architects of the impressive Atlanta United build that helped the Five Stripes win a championship in only their second season, was tasked with replicating a quick pathway to success in Fort Lauderdale. He’s followed the Atlanta blueprint, stacking the team with a combination of reliable MLS veterans and promising, young South American talent.
One big difference? There’s no Josef Martinez, the guy you just know is going to reliably score goals. Die-hard Five Stripes fans might, with some justice, point out that Martinez’ remarkable production was somewhat of a surprise out of the gate too. After all, Atlanta signed longtime Premier League veteran Kenwyne Jones as an insurance policy, not fully knowing what to expect.
In Miami, there are two promising young talents who the club hopes can blossom into an elite MLS goal scorer. The first is Argentine youth international Julián Simón Carranza, the 19-year-old who has drawn Kun Aguero comparisons at home. The second is top draft pick Robbie Robinson, the Clemson product who scored in the Herons final preseason friendly Saturday.
Unfortunately for Inter Miami, Carranza will miss the early portion of the season with an injury. Meanwhile, Robinson, while talented, has spent most the preseason playing with the reserves.
That could put the early season goal-scoring responsibilities on the midfield or veteran target man Juan Agudelo. Agudelo has 46 MLS goals to his name, a respectable number. But whether he can carry the load while the club wait on other options to get healthy and develop is a pressing question in year one. Jerome Kiesewetter, a former American prospect who played in the Bundesliga and most recently was seen lighting up the USL Championship, adds depth.
🎶 Vamoooo a cantar, vamooo a festejar 🎶
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) February 23, 2020
Can the defense carry the team early?
Alonso won two Concacaf Champions League titles with pragmatic, defend-first sides that had sturdy spines capable of grinding out results. That’s also a good expansion formula, even if the soccer isn’t always alluring.
McDonough has given Alonso a deep defensive group with a host of proven MLS commodities. The center backs include World Cup veteran Román Torres and the versatile AJ DeLaGarza, who was a fixture on three LA Galaxy MLS Cup winners. Neither of those veterans will be expected to play 90 minutes a game but will steady a locker room full of young talent. Pairing them with the likes of a young star like Nicolás Figal, who played over 100 matches in the Argentine Superliga before age 24, beckons 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 steady defense helped Atlanta grind out points and make a playoff run year one. The hope in Fort Lauderdale is this team is capable of the same thing.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) February 23, 2020
An intriguing midfield: will it gel?
Joining Liga MX star and El Tri international Rodolfo Pizarro in the Inter Miami midfield will be 19-year-old Argentine Matias Pellegrini and 23-year-old Celtic product Lewis Morgan, who will ply their trades at Alonso’s favored counterattacking wing positions. Wil Trapp, the 27-year-old MLS stalwart, will shield the back four and provide a steady hand in keeping the shape and calming things in possession. Lee Nguyen and Victor Ulloa give the group ample depth.
Signing Pizarro was a game-changer for Inter Miami. While not a goalscorer, Pizarro is a guy who can unlock defenses, play the line-breaking pass and keep the ball in traffic. MLS gives secondary assists, which could inflate Pizarro’s assist numbers. However, mainly what he’ll offer is a chance to diversify a team that before his signing looked like it would mostly be dangerous on the break. His ability to break lines and play diagonals is also intriguing given the blistering pace of Morgan and Pellegrini. How fast this group gels — and whether one soccer ball is enough for all of them — is a connected and important question, the answer to which could decide whether this is a playoff team.