Inter Miami finally made their MLS bow in 2020, two years after officially forming, just over six years since co-owner David Beckham exercised his option to buy an MLS expansion franchise, and eight years in total since MLS officials expressed interest in a team returning to the city.
The club, whose core values focus on multilingual and omnicultural, have preached a global reach, but are primarily driven by the idea of being a local club for local people first and foremost.
Inter Miami managed to build a hardcore local following before a ball was even kicked and their fans are not like your average MLS supporters. Miami’s heritage as a melting pot carries huge importance and the club has specifically geared itself towards Latin fan culture to reflect the area as a largely bi-lingual city and give local communities a team of their own, having previously been somewhat left out of and overlooked by the typical American soccer experience.
They even make a point about calling it ‘futbol’ rather than soccer…
The debut season was not an easy one by any stretch. Every brand new club has the potential to struggle even in normal circumstance, but Inter Miami had to also contend with a pandemic.
Inter Miami lost their two opening games against LA FC and D.C. United before the campaign was halted as the coronavirus crisis took hold. When the action resumed in summer and games doubled as a group stage for the one-off ‘MLS is Back Tournament’, they lost three more on the bounce.
It wasn’t until the club’s sixth MLS game that they chalked up a first win. That it was a Florida rivalry game against Orlando City made the relief of the 3-2 victory all the sweeter. From then on, results were inconsistent, with wins usually followed by losses.
All in all, Inter Miami finished the 2020 regular season 10th of 14 teams in the Eastern Conference and 19th of 26 overall. It was still enough to get into the preliminary round of the playoffs, only to lose 3-0 against fellow first timers Nashville SC, who had enjoyed a significantly better season.
MLS clubs have increasingly looked to South America for players in recent years, with plenty turning their back on big contracts for European veterans. Notwithstanding their very prominent Latin culture, Inter were no different and Argentine pair Julian Carranza and Matias Pellegrini, along with Venezuelan prospect Christian Makoun were the very first players signed.
Most of the rest of roster that followed came from other MLS clubs, either through the Expansion Draft or from free agency. But Mexican midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro from Monterrey was another big Latin arrival just before the 2020 season began.
Midway through, Inter added again when Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain both made the switch from Italian giants Juventus. Higuain joined Pellegrini and Pizarro on the ‘Designated Player’ list.
Inter have already let a handful of players go since last season, but plans for the 2021 campaign starting in March are still ongoing. Further investment in new players to improve the squad is very much part of the vision looking forward.
Diego Alonso had the honour of being Inter’s first ever head coach. Appointed in late 2019, the retired Uruguay international had previously worked at the highest level in his homeland, as well as Paraguay and at several clubs in Mexico.
Alonso remained in charge for the full 2020 season but left by mutual consent earlier this month.
Inter have already turned to former England women coach Phil Neville, a friend and former teammate of Beckham’s at Manchester United.
This is his first full-time appointment as a head coach in club soccer, or in men’s soccer, but Beckham has known Neville for the best part of 30 years and has faith that his ‘DNA’, attitude, work ethic and experience of playing at the highest level himself will negate a lack of managerial experience.
A stadium was a significant part of the initial process of launching the club and Inter Miami will eventually make their home at Miami Freedom Park, the fifth proposed site since 2014. It is planned to be a state of the art multi use complex that will also have office, retail and commercial space, as well as 750 hotel rooms and 23 acres of public soccer pitches.
But completion of the project is not expected until at least 2022.
Until then, they will continue to play at Inter Miami CF Stadium in nearby Fort Lauderdale that has been developed as a future training base for the club and its reserve side Fort Lauderdale CF.
Inter Miami fans and officials alike will want to see improvement in 2021.
They will hope to get the chance a full quota of games as long as the season isn’t curtailed or squeezed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but will also expect to get a higher proportion of wins, having lost more than half of their matches in 2020.
Playoffs has to be the minimum expectation for any ambitious club. With Beckham a two-time MLS Cup winner himself, he doesn’t want to be in the league just to make up the numbers.
It doesn’t have to be a slow process because it is possible for new clubs to do well very quickly. Atlanta United, MLS Cup winners in only their second season in 2018, and LA FC, Supporters’ Shield winners in their second season in 2019, have shown it is doable.