Assessing Inter Miami’s start to life in the MLS – why it might take time to see them near the top

Assessing Inter Miami’s start to life in the MLS - why it might take time to see them near the top

Inter Miami finally began their MLS adventure in 2020 after six years of planning. However, it has not exactly been plain sailing for the club owned by Miami Freedom Park LLC and spearheaded by former Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham.

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For Miami, the franchise’s first MLS season is proving to be a testing affair. After losing their first game 1-0 to Los Angeles FC in March, Rodolfo Pizarro scored the team’s first ever goal in the 2-1 defeat to D.C. United, but Miami would have to wait several more months for a victory due to the global pandemic.

When the first three points finally arrived in a 3-2 win over Orlando City in August, fans hoped it could kick start a run to the top of the table in the Eastern Conference, but a run of three straight losses that included a 4-1 humbling by New York Red Bulls all but ended those hopes.

Diego Alonso’s side eventually limped home in 10th place with seven wins, 13 losses and three tied games. That was enough to advance to the play-in round but a 3-0 defeat to Nashville quickly extinguished hopes of a deeper run. While it was not exactly a memorable debut campaign, could success be just around the corner for Miami?

For soccer enthusiasts in Florida, the fact that a team is now even playing in the Miami metropolitan area is something of a success right now. After the ownership of the franchise was first announced back in 2014, numerous delays related to land ownership for a stadium threatened to torpedo the venture entirely.

There is very much a sense within the club that the first few seasons in the MLS will just be about building a solid platform to work from rather than targeting immediate success. According to football writer, Joe Prince-Wright, “the next few seasons almost feel like a test run – to build a team that is fun to watch and gets people excited before it really gets going.”

That aim is evidenced by the signings of Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain, two players who have featured at the highest level in Europe. Matuidi’s arrival came just two years after he lifted the World Cup with France, and Higuian’s only four years after he commanded a $109m fee in a transfer to Juventus.

Higuain initially struggled to make a major impact although he has now scored four times in the first eight games of this season. Matuidi’s arrival has also seen Miami hit with a $2m fine for breaking the league’s budget rules. Neither marquee signing has been a total success as of yet.

There has also been a change in management. Uruguayan Diego Alonso took the reins for the 2020 season, but he was dismissed with only a 29.17% win record in January. His replacement, Phil Neville, has not fared much better after registering just two wins from his first eight matches.

Miami’s second season is now on course to end in similar fashion to the first unless they go on a winning run over the summer. Before the three-week break, Miami slumped to a 3-0 loss against D.C. United so that appears unlikely.

Fans should not be too disheartened as they can look at nearby Orlando City as a possible case study for medium-term success. Orlando began playing in the MLS in 2015 but their first five seasons ended in disappointment and a failure to qualify for the playoffs.

Only in 2020 did they finally break through with 11 victories, a winning record, and 41 points, which was enough to finish in 4th in the Eastern Conference. A first-round victory over New York City on penalties then followed before Orlando finally succumbed to New England Revolution 3-1 in the quarter-final.

The Florida-based franchise has started the 2021 season well, with three wins and only one defeat helping them to third in the table. Rather than looking on enviously, Miami fans should instead refer to Orlando’s struggles when they first entered the league as a more relevant comparison.

The backing of Beckham and an engaged ownership means Miami has a better chance than most new franchises to succeed in the long term. Sporting Director Chris Henderson says he has always believed in the “club’s ability to become a powerhouse.” That’s not just in terms of MLS either as Miami have got global dominance in their sights.

Henderson says building a healthy youth setup is important for Miami, which bodes well for the future, as is bringing in more international stars to the team. The future certainly looks bright on that front for Miami with co-owner Jorge Mas recently stating that he was “optimistic” about the chances of Barcelona legend Lionel Messi joining the team. The 33-year-old forward has scored more than 750 senior career goals and could transform any side instantly.

“I am optimistic Messi will play in an Inter Miami shirt because I think it will complete the legacy of the greatest player in our generation and will meet with the ambitions of the owners of Inter Miami to build a world-class team,” Mas said.

The arrival of Messi could be just a taste of what’s to come for Miami as many more big signings are planned, with Beckham stating that the Argentine and Portuguese great Cristiano Ronaldo are the “type of players” Miami are targeting.

It was perhaps unrealistic to expect Inter Miami to be an instant success on the field then. But with the long-term vision set out by Beckham and its owners, the latest addition to the MLS has every chance of winning silverware consistently in the future.

 

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