Inter Miami is on the right track despite rough start

Posted By Harrison Hamm on July 22, 2020

In a must-win group stage game Monday morning, Inter Miami faltered again, losing 1-0 to NYCFC. They are the first team to be eliminated from the MLS is Back tournament.

The expectations that came with being David Beckham’s long-awaited pet project have dissipated. Miami were supposed to charge head-first into their expansion season with the ferocity of Atlanta United and LAFC, touting a flashy crest, ecstatic fans, and immediate contention. Instead, they are the first team in MLS history to lose their first five games. The pandemic postponed their home opener, and it might be a while before people can attend games again. It’s been a bit of a rocky start.

Miami closer to ATL and LAFC than you’d think…

Miami’s struggles prove how hard it is to thrive in an expansion season, even when you’re the much-hyped Beckham brainchild. Atlanta and LAFC were anomalies. Miami is actually in a better position now than other past expansion teams were at this stage in their history. Minnesota United, Orlando City and FC Cincinnati started their existence by leaking a ton of goals, losing games, and, in the case of the latter two, cycling through managers.

This five-game losing streak undersells how competent Miami have actually been. All of their losses have been by one goal, and they’ve yet to concede more than twice in a game. The three clubs mentioned above needed years to stop hemorrhaging goals, and FCC still haven’t stopped. Like Nashville SC this year, Miami built their inaugural squad with defensive solidity in mind. They didn’t want to come out and get humiliated, and while they haven’t yet picked up a win, they’ve been respectable.

To restore the hype and optimism that once surrounded them, they’re going to have to make some tough decisions. Young Designated Player Matias Pellegrini hasn’t panned out, and neither has Julian Carranza. Rodolfo Pizarro was signed to be the superstar No. 10 and has mostly lived up, though he hasn’t quite taken over games yet.

They should build around Pizarro and keep their options open around him. They might have a useful piece in winger Lewis Morgan, who has two assists in four starts. Carranza and Pellegrini could improve as they settle in — a post-tournament regular season would help Miami a lot. Like other big-market MLS teams, they will perpetually be superstar-hunting. Any time there’s a star potentially on the market, Miami should take aim. (Edinson Cavani and James Rodriguez are names right now.) Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann and even Lionel Messi have long had their names attached to the club in various rumors.

Miami should avoid the grass is greener approach

It’s important, though, that Miami don’t fall into the “grass is always greener” trap. They can’t go big game hunting and forget about their own current roster. Fans want a winner, and as the LA Galaxy have proven, even an uber-productive megastar isn’t enough to guarantee anything in this league. Keep building around the edges, breed young players, and develop a positive identity under Diego Alonso.

Miami has been promising in this respect. They have competently defended and controlled games in the midfield even without newly-signed center back Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, a best XI-caliber defender. They’ve shown trust in rookie SuperDraft pick Robbie Robinson, a forward who had to leave the bubble due to personal reasons. They invested in MLS talent to provide depth — Grant Lillard, Jay Chapman, Ben Sweat, and Luis Argudo, among others. Most expansion teams aren’t stocked with this sort of bench talent.

Well-constructed depth, a foundation of starting-level players (Wil Trapp, Nicolas Figal, Juan Agudelo), and the high ceiling offered by their location put Miami in a position to succeed. It’s up to them to trust the right players, focus on building a sustainable system, and seek out elite players. A slow start won’t dampen the optimism.

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