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The Much-Hyped Inter Miami Project Is Off To An Atrocious Start

Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville reacts during their match against the D.C. United at DRV PNK Stadium on May 29, 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

To say that Inter Miami’s second season in MLS has been a disappointment would be an understatement, and Miami is not a town for understatements. Through 12 games this year, the ridiculously named Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami has the worst record in the entire league. They have won two matches, drawn twice, and lost eight, including the last six in a row. It would be more accurate to describe this season as an unmitigated disaster.

The latest embarrassment for David Beckham’s pet project came on Wednesday night, as Miami hosted the best side in the league, the New England Revolution, and promptly got shellacked 5–0.

It’s tempting to focus on the “5” part of that scoreline—how could you not, especially when Miami was trailing 4–0 at halftime?—but the club’s bigger problems can be found in the “0.” Through the 35 games of its existence, Miami has scored 34 goals. A scoring record like that is never going to win you a lot of points. Over the off-season, the club replaced its first manager, Diego Alonso, with a shiny new toy, former England women’s national team manager Phil Neville. Neville was meant to be something of a splashy hire, mostly because of his past as a player alongside Beckham as part of those legendary Manchester United teams of the late ’90s, but his results as a manager have been far from spectacular. The attack has been anemic, the defense a shambles, and it doesn’t look like Neville has the chops to make things better.

After the Revolution game, Neville blamed both himself and his players, saying, “The players need to take a long, hard look at themselves, and so do I. We win and lose together. You’ll never find me blaming. I take full responsibility for it.” That’s coachspeak for “We suck right now,” and there doesn’t appear to be much that the club can do to fix this in the near future. In May, MLS fined Miami a record $2 million for a whole mess of contract shenanigans. As the Miami Herald reported, the club was dinged for two incorrect player designations and three under-reported contract amounts. The league also decreased the club’s allocation money for the next two seasons by $2.27 million total, which means that Miami will have a paltry budget to improve by bringing in players. Given how poorly its marquee signings and additions have been so far, that doesn’t bode well for the club’s immediate future.

It all starts with the big-name striker. Gonzalo Higuaín might be 33 years old and past his prime, but he was supposed to come in and take over as the team’s main source of goals. In theory, his skill in the penalty box should be aging well, and though he doesn’t have the pace anymore, this should have worked. It has, as a whole, not worked at all.

The man himself has said that MLS is tougher than he was expecting, given that he thought he could play “with a cigarette [in my mouth] here” and still succeed. Though he started this season all right—four goals in his first five appearances, including a brace against FC Cincinnati—the goals have dried up, as have his minutes. He’s scored once in the five games since, and hasn’t played a full game in his last three.

The other high-profile player on the squad, former France international Blaise Matuidi, has been similarly poor since arriving in South Florida. Former Stoke City center back Ryan Shawcross is also here and also crapping the bed. It’s both bleak on its own and emblematic of Miami’s focus on an older method of building an MLS team, from its days as a “retirement league” for Europe-based players. Nowadays, MLS teams that succeed usually do so from cohesive gameplans and stars who are accustomed to the league’s physicality. Granted, ringers like Zlatan Ibrahimović or Carlos Vela are often still the cream of the crop, but but it takes a lot more than one or two former studs to make a winner. This is the lot Miami is stuck with, though, and it won’t get better any time soon.

Expansion teams across American sports are known to have these types of struggles early on. After all, they mostly pick players up from the unwanted piles of the expansion draft, and it takes time to build a team culture and foundation. Miami is no different, but there’s just nothing to be excited about here. Losing 5–0 is the most noteworthy thing the club has done in its existence, a beating so bad that its own fans booed the team as they walked off the field. Whatever excitement there was for returning MLS to Miami for the first time since the days of the Fusion at the turn of the millennium appears to be almost entirely gone. The closest thing to genuine interest that remains is morbid curiosity about how far Inter Miami and all of its glamour can fall into the sludge at the bottom of the league.

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