By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 24, 2020) US Soccer Players - Right now, possibly as you read this very piece of writing, Club Internacional de Futbol Miami is deciding what it wants to be. The brand new MLS expansion club possesses a blank slate, ready for the architects of the South Florida outfit to fill that space with an identity. With no playing history to speak of, Inter Miami is free to lean into whatever mode of play it wants to in a bid to attract the notoriously fickle sports fan of the region to Fort Lauderdale.
It can also dream big. There's no limit to the possibilities when the club's entire history lies in the future. Grandiose visions abound.
Making a good first impression might not be as important as the old cliche suggests, but Inter Miami must be conscious of its own after such a long road to its inaugural season. The quality and style of the product on the field in year one is important, if not critical, to the long term success of the project.
People want to root for winners, but that's only one part of the equation for any team. No other professional sport played in America cares so much about the way a team plays. It's for that reason that no coach walks into a job and declares himself ready to lead his team to as many gritty, 1-0 victories as possible.
Inter Miami's first-ever head coach, Diego Alonso, is no exception. Alonso arrives in Florida after a bit of a gap in his resume. Mexico's Monterrey fired the Uruguayan in the early going of the 2019 Apertura tournament with Rayados foundering. That was despite him leading the club to the Concacaf Champions League title just a few months prior. Alonso's return to the sideline gives him an opportunity to regain career momentum. The move to MLS also means a chance to build something from scratch. As Tata Martino proved in Atlanta, it is possible to build a legacy in just a few seasons.
Alonso struck a defiant tone in his opening comments to the press on Wednesday, giving a glimpse of his personality and how it might manifest in the way Miami plays.
"I am from Uruguay. I have been raised to always fight for what I want," Alonso said. "Growing up, I was always told that countries like Brazil and Argentina were superior and that as Uruguayans, we could not beat them. But if you notice, I believe Brazil has nine Copa America titles, Argentina has 14 of them, and Uruguay has 15 Copa America titles. So that is the mentality I identify with."
That approach might serve Inter Miami well, though it's odd to think an underdog's mentality is the right fit for the new club. Inter Miami is a club backed by David Beckham and based in one of the most glamorous parts of the country. The natural assumption is that the team must measure up to that glamour or risk drifting into the South Florida sports background.
Owner Jorge Mas, the most vocal of a group that includes his brother Jose, Beckham, and SoftBank executives Marcelo Claure and Masayoshi Son, consistently talks in spectacular terms about the ambitions of the club. Back in November, Mas pointed to Miami's draw as an international city when it comes to possible player signings.
"We aspire to bring the best players in the world, to bring the elite of international football, and not just [bring] the elite here to retire," Mas said. "It's important to elevate the level of the quality of play in MLS, and I believe Inter Miami is going to do that. We're going to bring the best players in the world to our squad to our city, and I hope to welcome those players."
The word "hope" mitigates the message somewhat, but Mas isn't doing much else to mince his words. He truly believes Inter Miami can secure the services of some of the best players in the world in something approaching their prime. To do that, the club must be aggressive and ready to spend.
A look at the Inter Miami roster with five weeks to go until the first game of the inaugural season shows a clear lack of "elite" players. There's talent available to Alonso thanks to the work of general manager Paul McDonough, but none of it counts as famous.
Will Inter Miami sign a high priced, marquee name Designated Player before the season starts? Alonso is either unbothered or confident that it will happen. McDonough told the press that he does not see the sense in signing DPs in the summer.
If Inter Miami makes a splashy move, it might come soon. It doesn't seem likely that the name will meet Mas's lofty bar for Miami targets, though almost any big name will bring the club attention and help on the field. Inter Miami is essentially boxed in by its locale. Though Beckham, Mas, and company have probably always planned on spending millions on a player or three, getting a noteworthy DP with a European resume is practically a must.
For lack of a better way of describing it, it wouldn't seem right if Inter Miami didn't sign at least one superstar, especially in the modern MLS. If Columbus and Sporting Kansas City can pay high-seven figure transfer fees for talent from Mexico, then Inter Miami equipped with money, ambition, and Beckham's network should be able to go much bigger.
The club currently has 24 players on the roster and intends to player proactive soccer, according to Alonso. There's room for a few more additions. Mas indicated the club would add "five or six players" in the coming weeks. It's hard to fathom that group won't include a pair of Designated Players, with Argentine teenager Mattias Pellegrini the only DP already signed. Mas didn't talk about "elite" players this time around. Instead, he mentioned personality as the key driver of interest for his fledgling club.
"We still have two Designated Player positions to fill," he said. "We are still building the team. You will see five or six players incorporated into the team in the coming weeks. We are less interested in the name of these players but more so in their character."
For Inter Miami, the push for identity is full of twists and turns. Like with so many soccer clubs around the world, new or old, the rhetoric is less important than the process. Alonso wants to play proactive soccer, as almost all coaches do. Mas wants the club to be a destination for world-class talent, and no owner would hope otherwise.
Inter Miami owns an intriguing mix of young talent and MLS veterans led by a coach with a proven North American track record. Everything else is yet to come. The one thing Inter Miami already knows it wants to be is the same as the other clubs in this league, a winner.
More From Jason Davis:
- The Galaxy, Atlanta, and Toronto face preseason pressure
- Seattle in the Champions League
- DC United signals intent with Flores transfer
- NYCFC finally names a coach
Photo by Andy Mead - ISIPhotos.com