Last time these teams met up, it was a Real Good Time for Nashville SC. Courtesy NSC/Major League Soccer
To get the latest on Inter Miami CF, I caught up with someone who covers the ins and outs of the club on a daily basis: Franco Panizo of SBI Soccer. What’s the scoop on the Herons?
Tim Sullivan: The coaching change over the offseason was one of the bigger storylines in MLS. What are some differences in the things Phil Neville is emphasizing versus what Diego Alonso had been? How has a roster heavy on South Americans taken to the switch to an Englishman as manager?
Franco Panizo: So far everything has been pretty positive. Different players have talked about there being a new energy in camp, and that has certainly seemed to serve Inter Miami well in these early stages of the year. Stylistically, Neville seems to want to prize possession more, though we have not seen that yet probably due in part to the team’s lack of overall fitness. The Englishman also seems to have more defined ways for how to go about things, including wanting to play more youngsters and putting an emphasis on the need for more hard work from everyone daily, whereas Alonso seemed to still be learning on the fly about how to approach things in MLS in what was a challenging 2020.
TS: The big news of the week has been the unfortunate passing of the Higuaíns’ mother. From a soccer perspective, how will their absences (and the unrelated absences of a couple other players) affect the way Miami plays?
FP: Neville said Thursday he plans to have his team come out with its same style of play despite the lengthy list of potential absences, but that might just be lip service. Given that five attackers, including three starters, may be unavailable it seems likely that Neville opts to go with a more reactive and counterattacking approach on Sunday in Nashville. Inter Miami will clearly be missing some quality in the final third this weekend and could be very depleted there, especially with the potential losses of Rodolfo Pizarro, Robbie Robinson and Julian Carranza.
TS: John McCarthy has been the go-to guy so far this year (and last year once Luis Robles went out). What is the local take on him? The stats certainly aren’t enamored.
FP: I think by and large that McCarthy is seen as a serviceable option, but not one that is looked at as a long-term solution in goal. He has made some very good saves that have largely flown under the radar and turned in some solid performances, but just does not have a ton of playing experience at a high level. That lack of seasoning has shown in some of the errors he has made, including on Javier Chicharito Hernandez’s second goal in Week 1, and is surely one of the reasons why Inter Miami was looking to bolster the position before recently signing seasoned Dutch netminder Nick Marsman of Feyenoord. McCarthy is a good No. 2 option that can and will still develop, but he is not an every-game starter at this point in his career.
TS: The defense was solid last year, but seemed to suffer some terrible luck at times. Has it mostly picked up where last year’s left off, is it improved with more time for Leandro Gonzalez Pírez to get settled in?
FP: It is early, but I think the play of the defense has been one of the bigger takeaways for the team after the first two matches of the year. Aside from giving up three goals to the LA Galaxy in the second half of the season opener, the Inter Miami back line has held up really well and given up very little. Neville and sporting director Chris Henderson’s decision to go with a more experienced group has paid initial dividends, and things figure to only get better as the group gets more reps together. What’s more, experienced left back Kieran Gibbs and Marsman are set to arrive in the summer, and should further improve a defense that has been boosted by the presence of Brazilian holding midfielder Gregore and the overall strong play of underrated centerback duo Nicolas Figal and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
TS: Nashville obviously picked up a former IMCF player in preseason in the form of Dylan Nealis. Since we’ve seen very little of him, what sort of player should NSC fans expect?
FP: Based on what I saw last year, Nashville SC has landed a capable player who can start at the right fullback spot but who is likely more of a depth option. Nealis has some experience playing both as a right back and right wingback — similar but different positions tactically — but seems to be better suited and more comfortable in the former. He can get up and down the flank fairly effectively, but his crossing needs some work. Nealis is athletic and works hard, but he has trouble defensively in his 1-on-1 battles vs. more skillful wingers. He is still fairly young at just 22-years old, though, so he should only grow and improve.
TS: What are some predictions that you have for the game (including a final score, if you’re comfortable giving one)?
FP: I typically prefer waiting until I see lineups before giving a prediction as so much can change depending on who is available and who is not, but I think a Nashville SC win is most likely given the number of absences Inter Miami could have. A draw would certainly not be a bad result for the South Florida side, but someone will really have to step up in order for a victory to be possible. It is MLS, of course, so anything can happen, but Nashville SC winning narrowly vs. a more reactive and counterattacking Inter Miami side is my prediction.
Many thanks to Franco for dropping by to answer some key questions. Check out his work on SBI and find him on Twitter @FrancoPanizo for your IMCF needs.