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Successful year or total disaster? A look back at Inter Miami CF’s fourth season in existence 🌴🦩


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Now… onto the newsletter! ⏭️

They signed the GOAT, managed to win their first-ever trophy as well as reach a second final, but what about the MLS? 😅

David Beckham’s expansion team was founded in 2018 and began play in 2020 but were hardly convincing until now.

Was success in the Leagues Cup enough to save their season? Keep reading as we analyze the South Florida side’s most recent campaign that saw none other than Leo Messi lift his second piece of silverware since winning the World Cup. 👇

It might’ve ended on a bit of a sour note, but it did little to change the fact that it was quite the fairytale journey that Inter Miami went on upon the arrival of the greatest of all time.

It felt like a movie, and it certainly played out like one throughout the club’s run in the Leagues Cup. Leo Messi made it clear that he wasn’t here for a vacation.

His debut free kick against Cruz Azul in front of the home fans, his doubles against Atlanta United, Orlando City and FC Dallas (including that ridiculous free kick to level the match), a trademark left-footed finish against Nashville in the final; we could go on and on.

It was nothing short of greatness that we all witnessed.

It wasn’t always magical for the club, though. In fact, Inter Miami were completely down for the count before Messi stepped onto the pitch at DRV PNK Stadium, sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference with a horrid record of 5-3-14.

In this 30th edition of the Plei newsletter, I provide an easy-to-read analysis of Inter Miami’s 2023 season, where I not only highlight their biggest takeaways but also their unfortunate low points. I also close with a preview of what’s to come in 2024 for the Fort Lauderdale-based club. 👇

🗓️ January to May: Underwhelming and in last place

Inter Miami went into their fourth MLS season with newfound hope and even higher expectations than before.

They had boosted their squad during the offseason, picking up defender Serhiy Kryvtsov and forwards Leonardo Campana & Josef Martínez, signings that would later make decent impacts at different points in the season.

The season prior, they had managed to sneak their way into the playoffs, an achievement that seemingly only happened because of former manager Phil Neville’s controversial decision to bench Gonzalo Higuain.

They were quickly eliminated in the first round at the hands of New York City FC, but it was a second playoff qualification in 3 years, something that was worth applauding.

180 minutes into the 2023 season, it seemed as though they were living up to those expectations. They secured 6 points across their first two matches, taking down Montreal and Philadelphia in the process.

Unfortunately, that hope quickly faded.

Miami proceeded to lose their next six MLS fixtures, a streak they managed to break after barely coming out victorious on penalties against USL Championship side Miami FC.

A loss against a club that shares the same city as you and is supposed to be an inferior opponent would have been pretty embarrassing.

The Herons were back up on their feet, with wins coming in their next four matches, three in the MLS and another coming in the Round of 32 of the U.S. Open Cup.

At this point, the only wins they were able to achieve came in the Open Cup, and rumors of a certain football legend being signed were already kicking in. Following their home win against New England on May 13, they would fail to win their next 11 MLS matches leading up to the Leagues Cup, only collecting 3 points across two months.

Inter Miami were dead last in the Eastern Conference going into the midseason cup break. This team needed an absolute miracle.

Fortunately, something of a miracle did come.

An Argentine one, of course.

🐐 Midseason Messi madness inspires the rest of the squad to inevitable glory

On June 7, Messi announced his decision to head to South Florida, opting against what would’ve been an emotional and famous return to his beloved Barcelona, as well as a move to Saudi Arabia that would have seen his bank account explode more than it already probably is.

Inter Miami were last place in the Eastern Conference, but by the time the rumors were sealed and confirmed that the Argentine captain was on his way, it seemed like nobody even cared. It was now officially all about Messi in Miami, even though he was really only heading to Fort Lauderdale.

If you watched any of Inter Miami’s Leagues Cup matches, you probably nearly convinced yourself at some point that you were seeing flashes of 2015 Barcelona with the presence of Messi, Busquets and (in the knockout stage) Alba.

It was almost surreal to watch. It was a brand-new Inter Miami - led by new head coach Tata Martino - and although the defense remained a big problem throughout the remainder of the season, it was pretty clear that the signings of these Barca legends had a huge impact on the rest of the squad.

Players like 18-year-old Benjamin Cremaschi and 19-year-old David Ruiz stepped it up and put up top performances despite being inexperienced. Meanwhile, Robert Taylor discovered an instant chemistry between him and Messi, seamlessly combining with him and scoring banger after banger.

We could go on naming a number of different players in this squad that put up high-quality performances when Messi, Busquets and Alba were on the pitch, but I think you get the point. The talent was clearly contagious.

After all, you don’t want to let down literal all-time greats of the game, do you?

Let’s be honest here, though. At times during their Leagues Cup campaign, the defense was nothing short of abysmal. I remember watching a lot of these matches and thinking, “how is this team not losing by 2 or 3 goals right now?”

We can thank the Barca boys for making it so that Miami’s attacking prowess completely overshadowed their defensive mishaps, but there’s only one real answer to this question if you paid even a little bit of attention to these games: Drake Callender.

Throughout the first half of the season, he was visibly already Inter Miami’s most valuable player. As a result of his numerous MVP performances, he even earned a USMNT callup back in June.

The types of saves he was making in the first half of the season and continued to make during the Leagues Cup were nothing short of world class. So much so that it literally isn’t a debate that without Callender, Miami would have been booted out of the tournament at least two rounds sooner.

He was the hero of two different penalty shootouts, even scoring the game-winning penalty in an insane 9-10 shootout against Nashville in the final.

I mean come on, need we say more about this guy’s impact?

If you thought this section was going to be exclusively about Messi, you thought wrong. His instant impact on Inter Miami is already well-documented, and we didn’t want to be another one in the bunch.

So, if you’re having Messi withdrawals right about now (don’t worry, I am too), feel free to head to YouTube and rewatch his Inter Miami highlights.

📉 Messi extended absence, Inter Miami struggle

As you probably know by now, Inter Miami’s luck ran out soon after lifting the Leagues Cup.

Three days after winning yet another penalty shootout to reach the Open Cup final, another Messi goal secured 3 points for Miami against the NY Red Bulls in his MLS debut. Four days later, their first blemish since the Argentine’s arrival came in the form of a goalless draw against Nashville.

They’d bounce right back against LAFC, with Alba scoring his first goal for the club thanks to a Messi assist.

Despite Messi’s absence in the following fixtures, Inter Miami were still able to come out victorious, but all the luck that they had left ran out, as they were destroyed by Atlanta United in a 5-2 loss.

Messi’s return to the starting lineup was cut short and he was subbed off early against Toronto due to a slight discomfort. Miami still managed to win 4-0.

As it turned out, it was the last time Inter Miami would win for the rest of the season, and Messi hardly played a part until he finally returned to the team for their final match of the year.

He looked on from the bench as they fell 1-2 in the Open Cup Final against Houston, a match that they were completely outplayed in from start to finish.

Despite collecting 16 points from their final 13 regular season matches, Inter Miami finished 14th in the Eastern Conference.

⌛ Suarez arrival imminent… historic 2024 to come?

Again, it was quite the unfortunate way to end the season, especially after the Leagues Cup success.

But was it all just a total failure?

Some might say that it was, and those people might argue that Inter Miami’s inability to turn up the heat to try and make the MLS playoffs is the reason why.

But a season that saw them secure the signatures of three veteran Barcelona legends, win their first-ever trophy in only their fourth year in competition, and reach another final can never be total failure.

If anything, the way Inter Miami proceeded to play throughout the rest of the season was just a bit underwhelming - albeit expected without Messi in many of the lineups.

Still, though, Messi literally came to the club and inspired the club to make history. In what world is that a failure?

If this is the kind of quick impact the greatest player of all time can have on a club that was bottom of the league before he arrived, imagine what he’ll do throughout a full season.

With Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and - assuming the rumors are true - Luis Suarez by his side, it’s going to be a scary scene for the rest of the MLS.

Well, only if they sign a decent defender.

That’s it for the 30th edition of our newsletter! 😅
How did you like it? Let me know by messaging me via email at [email protected] or by sending us a text. 📲
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