Inter Miami CF Profile
With the acquisition of Phil Neville as manager and the talent of Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi, The Herons have a gameplan for immediate impact and quick success.
Miami is one of the latest cities to receive an MLS franchise, with the expansion team first taking to the field in 2020. Officially the team is called Club Internacional de Futbol Miami, but they are best known as Inter Miami. Their nickname is The Herons.
An MLS return to Miami had long been rumoured, ever since the Miami Fusion folded in 2001. The first attempt in 2009 failed as a group led by FC Barcelona and Bolivian entrepreneur Marcelo Claure couldn't secure a stadium. The next effort came from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, but the league instead decided to work with international soccer legend David Beckham.
When he signed with the LA Galaxy in 2007, Beckham also decided to purchase a future expansion team in MLS for $25million. When he retired in 2013, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star partnered with Claure and his former business manager Simon Fuller (since bought out) to explore putting a team in Miami. Beckham exercised his option in 2014 and negotiated with Miami to build a downtown stadium while adding Jose and Jorge Mas as owners, along with Masayoshi Son. It took until 2018 to secure the stadium deal and on January 29, 2018, MLS officially awarded Miami a franchise.
They hired Paul McDonough as sporting director and brought in former Uruguay national team player Diego Alonso as their first manager. Alonso managed Pachuca and Monterrey in Mexico's Liga MX from 2014 to 2019 and also had managing experience in Paraguay and Uruguay. He led both Mexican sides to the CONCACAF Champions League title and even won a Liga MX Clausura with Pachuca.
With the new stadium at Miami Freedom Park under construction and expected to open in 2022, Inter Miami signed a deal to play in Fort Lauderdale on the site of the former Lockhart Stadium that hosted the Strikers of the USL. Inter Miami built a new 19,000-seat stadium and training facility that will eventually be the training headquarters for the team and their youth academy. The stadium is also home to Inter's reserve team, Fort Lauderdale CF, which plays in USL League One.
Inter Miami's first season
MLS had two new expansion teams in 2020, Inter Miami and Nashville SC. The two teams took part in an Expansion Draft on November 19, 2019. Miami won the coin toss and with their first pick, they selected defender Ben Sweat from New York City FC. They followed this up with defender Alvas Powell, midfielder Lee Nguyen, midfielder Luis Argudo and goalkeeper Brian Meredith.
They brought in big names like Julian Carranza and Matias Pellegrini from Argentina and Christian Makoun from Venezuela. They paid $100,000 in General Allocation Money for midfielder Jay Chapman from Toronto FC and $75,000 for defender Grant Lillard from Chicago Fire. Miami traded for FC Cincinnati midfielder Victor Ulloa and added forward Jerome Kiesewetter on a free transfer. Their biggest acquisition came in February 2020 when they used a Designated Player signing of $12million to bring in midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro from Monterrey in Mexico.
Other players who were added before the season began were New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, midfielder Wil Trapp from Columbus Crew, midfielder Lewis Morgan from Scottish side Celtic and forward Juan Agudelo from New England Revolution. With the first pick of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, they chose forward Robbie Robinson from Clemson University, and with their third pick, they took midfielder Dylan Nealis from Georgetown University.
Inter Miami played their first-ever MLS game at Los Angeles FC on March 1 and lost 1-0. Six days later, they lost 2-1 at D.C. United with Pizarro scoring the franchise's first-ever goal. Their home opener was supposed to be against Beckham's former team LA Galaxy, but COVID-19 suspended the season. In June, the Herons added former USMNT defender/midfielder Brek Shea and Argentine defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez from Tijuana in Mexico to their ranks.
At the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando in July, Inter Miami were drawn in Group A. Their first game was against Florida rivals Orlando City SC and Agudelo gave the Herons the lead in the 47th minute. However, they then conceded goals in the 70th and 97th minutes to lose 2-1. They lost to Philadelphia Union 2-1 and NYCFC 1-0 to end group play in last place.
Inter Miami finally got to play a home game on August 22 against local rivals Orlando City, although no fans were allowed. Carranza scored two goals in the first half and Pizarro struck in the second half as Inter Miami earned their first-ever win - 3-2 the final score. They added French international and World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi to the midfield in early September. Matuidi was a free transfer from Juventus and he debuted on September 6 in a 0-0 draw against Nashville.
Morgan scored twice in a 2-1 win over Atlanta United on September 9, and the Herons beat Atlanta again 10 days later with goals from Agudelo and Shea. On September 18, Miami paid $9million to bring in Argentine superstar striker Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus and traded Nguyen back to New England. Higuain debuted on September 27 in a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia, missing a penalty in the process. He notched his first goal when scoring the game winner against Red Bulls on October 7, while Morgan scored the only goal in a win over Houston Dynamo three days later. Miami added Gonzalo's brother Federico Higuain from D.C. United in October too.
After a defeat and a draw, Inter beat Orlando City 2-1 at home on October 24, with Gonzalez Pirez scoring the game winner in the 89th minute. Matuidi scored his first goal in a 2-1 loss against Toronto FC on November 1, and Miami went into the final game of the season needing a win to make the play-offs. At home against FC Cincinnati on November 8, Michael Ambrose and Gonzalez Pirez scored in a 2-1 victory to give Miami the last MLS Cup play-off spot.
At Nashville SC in the play-offs, Miami were overwhelmed 3-0 as their season came to a close. Morgan led the team with five goals and five assists over the campaign. Pizarro and Shea each had four goals while Agudelo scored three. Luis Robles started 15 games in goal with two clean sheets and John McCarthy had one clean sheet in eight starts. In 23 games, the Herons earned 24 points with seven wins, three draws and 13 losses. They scored 25 goals over the season and conceded 35.
After the 2020 campaign, Inter Miami declined options on the contracts of Ambrose, Agudelo, Kiesewetter, Powell and Robles. They traded Ben Sweat to expansion team Austin FC in December. They will draft 10th in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft.
Inter Miami's rivals
Orlando City SC are Inter Miami's main geographic rivals, with the two cities being separated by just over 200 miles of Florida Turnpike.
The in-state rivalry was played four times in 2020, with each team winning twice. Orlando City won the first match-up at the MLS is Back Tournament when Nani scored a goal in the seventh minute of added time. Inter Miami earned their first-ever MLS win against Orlando City on August 22 with a 3-2 victory. Orlando returned the favour at home with a 2-1 win on September 12, ending Miami's three-game unbeaten streak. The final match-up of the season saw a 2-1 win for Inter Miami on October 24 as they closed in on a play-off spot. Only two of the four games were played in front of fans, with attendance limited to less than 5,000.
Miami Freedom Park
The Inter Miami owners endured an exhaustive search for a site on which to build a new stadium before MLS would offer them an expansion team.
Their first choice was at PortMiami, next to the home of the NBA's Miami Heat. That plan was eventually shot down due to opposition from the county and the team next looked at a waterfront location at Museum Park. After that plan fell through, the owners looked at the Little Havana area, location of the new Miami Marlins baseball stadium. They eventually acquired three acres of county land in Overtown near Interstate 95 and the Miami River.
However, in 2018 they switched gears again, resolving to construct a 25,000-seater stadium in Freedom Park near Miami International Airport. The overall park will include over one million square feet of office, retail and commercial space, nearly 1,000 hotel rooms and more than 20 acres of public soccer fields. The stadium will be the centrepiece of an area that also includes more than 50 acres of public park space. The plan passed a public referendum in 2018 with over 60% of the vote in agreement and the $1billion project broke ground in 2019. Inter Miami are expecting to move into their new stadium in 2022.
Inter Miami's top players
Inter Miami have signed three designated players: Matias Pellegrini, Rodolfo Pizarro and Gonzalo Higuain. Higuain was a $9million signing and is the most expensive player in MLS. They also brought in Blaise Matuidi, who won the FIFA World Cup with France in 2018.
Among the US men's national team players who played for Miami in their first season are Brek Shea, Lee Nguyen, Jerome Kiesewetter, Ben Sweat and Wil Trapp. Lewis Morgan debuted for Scotland in 2018, while Jay Chapman has seen action for Canada. Roman Torres plays internationally for Panama, while Alvas Powell plays for Jamaica.