Whether David Beckham’s MLS franchise will be Internacional by name for much longer is up for debate. But the club being international by nature certainly is not. In keeping with Miami’s reputation as a melting-pot of North, Central and South American cultures, Inter have put together a squad with a variety of Latin backgrounds and a fine mix of youthful energy and experience for their inaugural MLS season, going against expectations that the venture would prove a magnet for ageing superstars.
Sporting director Paul McDonough is not prepared to risk long-term stability for quick thrills. Enduring success and local popularity appear to be Inter’s aims, and if so, they are going about their business in a shrewd, praise-worthy manner before their season-opener against FC Dallas on February 22.
Inter Miami are currently in a legal battle with their Milanese namesake over the club’s right to market itself as ‘Inter’, with the Italians arguing that the word is their trademarked property. In the court case, MLS, which owns all the clubs that play in North America’s top division, is arguing that the word ‘Internacional’ is merely descriptive and as such is not subject to copyright laws. On the surface, the argument appears a solid one.
Last week, news broke that Inter would be signing Colombian U23 international defender Andres Reyes on loan from Atlético Nacional and, more excitingly, 25-cap Mexico star and 2019 CONCACAF Champions League winner Rodolfo Pizarro from Monterrey. They will be added to a squad that already includes three Argentines, a Venezuelan, a Haitian, a Scot, another Mexican, a Jamaican, a Panamanian, a Canadian and Americans of diverse heritage.
The manager tasked with overseeing this multinational group is Diego Alonso, a Uruguayan who earned a European Champions League runners-up medal with Valencia as a player and led Pizarro and Monterrey to continental glory in North America last year as a coach.
Miami, a place where more people speak Spanish as a first language than English, is often referred to as the northernmost city in Latin America. Inter, then, reflects its surroundings. Despite the ever-increasing financial focus in professional football, clubs are still meant to represent places, ideas and populations. And in bringing together this group, Inter are quickly fashioning an identity that locals will be able to recognise and get behind. As David Beckham’s co-investor Jorge Mas told the league’s official site, “We are less interested in the name of these players, but more so in their character.”
Fortunately for Inter’s budding fanbase, the footballing skill also appears abundant. In 19-year-old Christian Makoun, a Venezuela-born defender whose father played for the Cameroonian national team, they have a powerful, elegant and composed player who led his country to the final of the 2017 U-20 World Cup and spent last year on loan with the Juventus B team. From Argentina’s Primera Division, they have plucked Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza, two wonderfully gifted 19-year-old attackers.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Panama captain Roman Torres combines no-nonsense defending with experience at the top level in South and North American club football. The likes of USMNT midfielder Wil Trapp, Jamaican defender Alvas Powell and Beckahm’s ex-LA Galaxy team-mate AJ DeLaGarza also have a wealth of MLS appearances behind them, whilst German-American striker Jerome Kiesewetter and ex-Celtic man Lewis Morgan have played for big European clubs.
Sporting director McDonough is drawing on experience, too. He previously held a similar position Atlanta United as they went from expansion franchise to MLS Cup winners in just two seasons, using a similar mix of South and North American talent. And to work alongside him, McDonough, Beckham and Mas have brought in a coach with a strong track record.
“What we really like about [Alonso] is he’s coached at big clubs and he’s won at big tournaments”, McDonough told AP. “He’s won at all different levels throughout South America.” In addition to that 2019 Concacaf Champions League crown with Monterrey, the Uruguayan won a Liga MX title and Champions League with Pachuca in 2016 and 2017.
One issue could be a lack of goals, with no proven 20-a-season man in the squad. But, Kiesewetter told the Miami Herald, “We’re working hard on getting our patterns in, and hopefully it will work out in the first game.” Alonso’s Monterrey side scored plenty – they won their Champions League semi-final 10-2 on aggregate over Sporting Kansas City last year – so they will be hoping the manager can build a fluid style, using the array of creative talent at his disposal, that compensates for the lack of innate poaching instinct in the group.
Instead of following that obvious path of superstars and high wages, Inter Miami have been far cuter, forging a squad capable of becoming a cohesive team on the pitch and building a strong relationship with supporters off it. Being an expansion franchise can be tough – last year’s new boys FC Cincinnati managed just six wins in 34 games – but Alonso is bullish about their chances. “We see being a debutant team as a great opportunity to create a new winning side in MLS,” he told Univision. “We’re confident that we have the capacity, along with the owners, coaches, players and fans, to make MLS history.”