It would be fair to say that Florida’s first forays into professional soccer have not been all that successful. Orlando City has been mainstays of the MLS for a while now, but they are still struggling to make any real in-roads into the competition. Their run to the Eastern Conference semi-final in 2020 is their best effort yet.
But there is the hope that Inter Miami, bankrolled by soccer legend David Beckham, could bring success to the small but growing number of the sport’s fans in Florida. The 2020 season was an eye-opener – it was the franchise’s first campaign in Major League Soccer – but the hope is that can provide the foundation for a more decisive set of performances in 2021.
With some prominent transfers made, could Inter Miami bring the first-ever MLS title to Florida?
Other than the fact it was their first full season, it’s fair to say that the 2020 campaign is not one that will live long in the memory of Inter Miami supporters.
However, even though they failed to make the playoffs, you could already see the potential that Beckham’s side has.
Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi were the big-money signings. While both went through a period where they were clearly getting accustomed to the MLS and its unique style of play, they still showed occasional glimpses of their class.
Lewis Morgan and Rodolfo Pizarro, both ‘under the radar’ signings, were hugely impressive, totaling nine goals and thirteen assists between them and more will be expected from them in 2021. Matias Pellegrini, still only 21 years of age, also showed enormous signs of promise.
At the other end of the age scale, the likes of Victor Ulloa and Wil Trapp showed they still have plenty to offer, while Ben Sweat justified his reputation as a reliable left-back that is capable of playing for most MLS teams. The main issue was that, in defense, Miami was poor. You’re going to struggle to make the postseason games when you concede 35 goals in 23 regular campaign outings, which is one of the reasons former head coach Diego Alonso was shown the door.
One of the most interesting things about this change is that the sportsbooks are pricing Inter Miami’s chances of success based on that 2020 season. This is why odds of +2000 are available on them to lift the MLS Cup with many of the most recommended soccer betting sites in America. These bookmakers compile their prices based on a variety of different factors, and bettors can wager on their favorite teams both game-by-game and in the outright betting markets – the latter, in particular, is where Miami holds the most appeal based on their perceived offseason improvements.
The Manchester Connection
In replacing Alonso, Beckham has turned to a former Manchester United and England teammate.
Phil Neville is a well-respected coach that took the women’s game forward in his native country and while there will be a period of transition under his stewardship, expectations are high. The Englishman is set to make Inter Miami a more organized and progressive outfit.
An international defender in his own right, Neville knows what makes for a solid backline having lined up for one of the masters of the art – Sir Alex Ferguson. In addition, his teachings were clear for all to see as Neville guided the English women’s team to victory in the SheBelieves Cup and also to a World Cup semi-final.
Yes, there are question marks – this is Neville’s first senior role in club football management – but he has a background of success that is hard to overlook. In fact, the Manchester connection could be extended further as, according to some exciting sports news, Daniel Sturridge, the former Liverpool, and Manchester City striker, could be heading to Florida too.
A Case for the Defense
As we have already learned, there were clear and obvious issues in defense for Miami last season. But rather than brushing those under the carpet, Beckham and Neville have moved swiftly to bring in new recruits in that department. Kieran Gibbs, who played for West Brom in the English Premier League, is a classy operator and Ryan Shawcross, a former England central defender, will add nous and physicality to the backline.
Miami have added a proven MLS champion to their ranks too. Kelvin Leerdam scored in the 2019 MLS Cup final for the champions Seattle Sounders. So here’s a guy who has been around a title-winning camp – again, that experience could prove invaluable. While Beckham’s recruitment hasn’t been exclusively positive, the likes of Sweat, Trapp, and Juan Agudelo have now all left, he has taken giant strides in rectifying his team’s major weaknesses.
All of the great soccer teams defend from the front – that is, every single player is tasked with a defensive responsibility of some kind, not just the designated backline. In midfield, Inter Miami can call upon a ‘shield’ of the highest order – Matuidi and Gregore. The former is a World Cup winner with bags of experience, while the latter is a new signing at the Herons having joined from Brazilian outfit Bahia in February.
What is interesting about the 27-year-old is that Chris Henderson, Miami’s knowledgeable Sporting Director, has had him in his crosshairs for a while. “Gregore is a player who has been on my radar for some time, and we are very pleased to bring him to Inter Miami ahead of the 2021 MLS season,” he revealed in a club statement.
With bite in midfield to go with the strengthened backline, Inter Miami has the basic building blocks for MLS success in 2021. If they can find the goals to go with that rearguard action, they could go very close to long-overdue soccer glory for Florida.