By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jan 6, 2020) US Soccer Players – The end of 2019 made waves with Inter Miami hiring Diego Alonso as their first coach. Alonso built his reputation in Liga MX. He wasn’t the big name some had expected the MLS expansion side to sign, but he is an interesting choice. The 44-year-old Alonso, a former journeyman striker, is a two-time Concacaf Champions League winner with different Liga MX teams. He won with Pachuca in 2016 and Monterrey last year. Born in Uruguay, Alonso has the kind of resume any MLS team would want from the person pacing on the sidelines. Depending on his level of success in 2020, Alonso’s arrival could usher in a trend of Liga MX coaches looking for a coaching challenge in MLS.
Alonso’s arrival already continues the trend of South American coaches in MLS and adds to the growing connection between the league and Liga MX. Guillermo Barros Schelotto of the LA Galaxy and Matias Almeyda of the San Jose Earthquakes, both Argentines, joining the league ahead of last season. That brings the total number to five Latin Americans now serving as coaches in the league.
Inter Miami may still be preparing for its debut, but this is a team that is looking to win quickly. Atlanta United started this trend a few seasons back. Alonso is exactly the kind of manager that can mold a still-in-progress roster to the playoffs and potentially more. After all, Miami is a soccer town. This is a nascent club with plenty of excitement already surrounding it. Alonso is a proven winner. He checks all the right boxes.
In a statement, Inter Miami Sporting Director Paul McDonough noted, “In Diego we found a manager that fits our culture and has a strong desire to build a winning club for our fans. He brings a lot of experience and championship-winning mentality as we begin our drive to be among the best clubs in the Americas. We have big aspirations for our club and believe Diego has the right drive, passion, and leadership to accomplish our goals.”
Alonso can also get results quickly. He coached Monterrey from May 2018 through September 2019. Only a year after arriving, Alonso helped the team win the Champions League. He also coached the club to the 2018 Copa MX Apertura final. Considering the struggles MLS clubs have in the CCL, it’s an interesting strategy for an ambitious club. Liga MX might have more coaching churn than most leagues, but this is still convincing a winner to move to MLS. Should it work, no doubt winning in the region will inflate a coach’s profile. Whether or not that’s a direct line to taking a high profile MLS job is a different question.
What that Champions League experience also adds is experience playing against MLS teams. Alonso’s teams have eliminated three MLS opponents. In the 2016-17 edition, Pachuca defeated FC Dallas in the semifinals. Two years later, Monterrey beat Atlanta United in the quarterfinals, then eliminated Sporting Kansas City in the semifinals. McDonough, in an interview with The Associated Press, admitted that Alonso’s CCL experience was a major factor in his hiring. “MLS has made such a focus on trying to win Concacaf Champions League, I think the fact Diego has done it twice – with two different teams – is super valuable to me,” he said.
It’s tough to argue against that. Liga MX coaches moving to MLS is still a rarity. Almeyda in San Jose had to play down rumors of a quick return to Liga MX this offseason. There’s still the feeling that it’s the bigger league, something reflected in the TV ratings in this country where more people watch Liga MX than any of the other club soccer options. Tata Martino leaving Atlanta for the Mexico job didn’t help with that perception. Martino showed that a foreign coach can win MLS Cup, something that hasn’t been easy. 18 out of 24 times the coach of the winning team came from the US or Canada. Martino was the first from Central or South America.
MLS is a league in flux, responding to global trends as well as what happens in this region. There’s a push for younger coaches. At 44, Alonso is just on the right side of that line. He’s a former player, once again something that tends to resonate these days. Tactically, Alonso likes to employ an attacking style 4-2-3-1. With two Designated Players slots still to fill, Alonso’s presence allows for him to take part in helping build the squad. Even under restrictive MLS rules, Alonso has the experience to know how to put together a competitive group.
How that might work in MLS will have to wait for results on the field. Expectations and ambitions are high, but Alonso took this job for a reason. His proof of concept starts at LAFC on March 1.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Soccer in 2020
- The USMNT in the 2010s
- The early MLS contenders
- Charlotte’s quick arrival as an MLS expansion target
Logo courtesy of Inter Miami