When it comes to building a club it takes a great staff, a great program, and a lot of luck. For Inter Miami FC it has been a tough road getting just one of those three items. After years of waiting and stops and starts it was expected that the club would finally be on the right path when they kicked off play last year. Despite their playoff appearance last year and a strong run to end the season, the removal of coach Diego Alonso and insertion of Phil Neville as well as additional front office upheaval shows that they may still have some work to do.
Now, it is important to note: all MLS expansion sides go through their growing pains. Like any new business there are stops and starts, players and staff come and go, and there are a few unexpected speed bumps. Players that were perceived as being cornerstones of the new franchise are quickly and quietly let go, marketing and training strategies are tried and scrapped, and teams may have to play in a few interesting stadiums before they get to their actual home park. It seems to be a rite of passage when joining the league, that teams will be tried and tested across multiple fronts before they can have success.
Even before play kicked off, Miami certainly checked many of those boxes. Inter Miami CF’s story really dates back to 2007 when David Beckham signed with Major League Soccer and the Los Angeles Galaxy. Part of Beckham’s contract at the time included a provision that would allow him to own a future MLS franchise. That franchise would eventually end up being Miami.
Although Beckham and the league’s announcement about Miami on provisionally rejoining the league (the Miami Fusion played in the league from 1999 to 2001) came in 2014 it would take six years for the team to actually play a match. Constant stops and starts with the city of Miami over the development of a new stadium impeded progress. That the league would not fully approve the Miami franchise until a stadium was agreed upon did not help. There were also shifts in the ownership group with Simon Fuller having his ownership share being bought out by Beckham in 2019.
Despite the constant twists and turns, Inter Miami CF would indeed see the light of day and their stadium would be ready for their inaugural season. The side seemed to be set for an Atlanta United first season, having signed former Pachuca and Monterrey Manager Diego Alonso and having picked up Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Maltuidi, and Rodolfo Pizarro. While they struggled early, losing their first five matches including being swept out in the MLS is Back Tournament, they did finish their season strong. Thanks in part to a rejuvenated attack, Miami would win four of their last eight matches and book a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Although they were no match for New York City FC, losing 3-0 in the first round, it gave their long-suffering supporters who have waited years for a team to come hope.
While it is certainly possible that hope may be fulfilled in 2021 it will not be with Alonso. In January, Alonso and the club mutually agreed to part ways. This termination came after a story by The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio that Alonso thought he had been fired at the club’s end-of-season meeting in December. Sources within the club at the time said there was a miscommunication during the meeting which led Alonso to believe he had been fired. While he wasn’t fired in December his time was coming to an end. He wasn’t the only member of the front office to leave this winter. Chief Operating Officer and Sporting Director Paul McDonough and Technical Director Kurt Schmid also left.
While Miami’s personnel moves were abrupt, to the club’s credit they have moved fast to fill two of the three spots, bringing Neville in as head coach and former USMNT midfielder Chris Henderson as their COO and Sporting Director. While both certainly have the credentials for their position the bigger questions are: Why was there a need for a shake-up and what does this mean for their current crop of players?
As with everything Miami all signs to Beckham. If the expectations were from Beckham that the club could have an Atlanta United level first season (which would make sense that McDonough was there for Atlanta’s first season), then Miami certainly fell way short. But given the track record of expansion sides in their first season and that Miami seemed to be more interested in buying players that were over the age of 30 (which Atlanta generally avoided) it seems as though their mission was out of sync with history. Given that Beckham played so many years in MLS and has had years to study the league and figure out how to make things work their personnel decisions his side shouldn’t have been caught off-guard like they were.
The decision to bring in Neville, a former teammate of Beckham, has also raised some eyebrows. Foreign coaches have struggled to adapt to MLS and especially with expansion sides. That his club coaching experience is thin (he was an assistant at Valencia) and his track record with The Lionesses was up and down makes one wonder whether he is up for the task.
There is plenty to be excited about with Miami. With a new stadium, a blossoming Academy, and a full season of Higuain the team will certainly improve from the first year. But after so many of years waiting to get onto the pitch it seems as if the club is having a second expansion season versus going into Year Two. Developing a club takes time, but a reboot so early seems to point to bigger long-term problems for the side.