Reliving the good times. The toboggan/rollercoaster times. Photo by Sierra Swenson courtesy Nashville SC.
What has gone down in the past [checks watch, double-checks with calendar] uh, week since Nashville SC has seen Inter Miami CF? I caught up with Miami Herald‘s Michelle Kaufman to get the scoop on Beckham’s boys.
For Club and Country: Obviously the big story of the week is the signing and arrival of French International Blaise Matuidi. What are Diego Alonso’s expectations for how he’ll fit into – and improve – the team?
Michelle Kaufman: Inter Miami owners have been promising a world-class player with World Cup and Champions League experience since the team was launched. They finally got a player with that pedigree — Blaise Matuidi, the French World Cup winner who came from Juventus. He played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus and Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham at Paris Saint Germain. Inter Miami has been struggling in the midfield, putting too much on the shoulders of playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro, so Diego Alonso expects Matuidi will free up Pizarro to be more creative. Matuidi will also offer experience and leadership in the locker room.
FCAC: Prior to Matuidi’s signing, the prevailing narrative around IMCF had been that this is a team that’s close to a breakthrough, but hasn’t been able to find it with any regularity. Is this a team that’s poised to get it all together as the chemistry builds along that talented front line?
MK: The team has talent, but has lacked cohesion at times, and has also been unlucky. All six losses have been by a single goal — and a few of those losses really could have gone either way. Miami has had plenty of scoring opportunities the past few games, but has been unable to make the final pass and find the back of the net. Expansion teams always struggle, but this team had the added misfortune of COVID shutdown. Also the plan was to have an experienced, proven forward, and that player has not arrived yet. The latest news is that they are close to signing Argentine Gonzalo Higuain, who would be reunited with Matuidi.
FCAC: Meanwhile, the defense has been very solid in front of Luis Robles. What are some of the key factors that have allowed the backline to keep him relatively clean? Has he personally lived up to his historical standard this season – as he gets up there in years?
MK: Luis Robles, who is the team captain, has proven to be the team leader that was expected. His calm demeanor, his position on the executive board of the players’ association, and his maturity have helped keep the team together and motivated despite having only one victory. As for the back line, Nico Figal from Argentina has been one of the team’s best players all season, and the addition of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, the onetime Atlanta United star, has made the back line even stronger. Andres Reyes, a 20-year-old Colombian, is a rising young talent, and MLS veteran Ben Sweat has played smart, as well.
FCAC: The lone win to date this season (as well as a tougher-than-expected out to LAFC to open the year) came at home. Has the club gotten a boost when playing at home – even a temporary one?
MK: Unfortunately for Inter Miami, MLS closed down for COVID-19 two days before the team’s scheduled home debut against the LA Galaxy. There were lots of festivities planned, David Beckham was scheduled to attend, and it was to be on national TV. Instead, Miami has played only one home game — August 22 (the 3-2 win over Orlando) — heading into Sunday’s game against Nashville. The Aug. 26 game vs Atlanta was called off for Black Lives Matter protest.
FCAC: After a close loss in Nashville, is there a revenge narrative within the team at all?
MK: The players have mentioned that they thought they could have won that game at Nashville. They took 19 shots, and had a few clear chances, but Nashville’s compact defense frustrated Miami’s midfielders and the offense didn’t look as fluid as it had against Orlando. The team surely wants to do better this time around, and the addition of Matuidi should make a difference.
Many thanks to Michelle for sharing her subject-matter expertise. For much, much more of it, follow her coverage at @kaufsports.