Inter Miami CF caught a break last week. The Major League Soccer club broke the seal on its true inaugural season on April 18 by blowing two separate leads to lose its nationally televised opener against the L.A. Galaxy — former club of Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham — with MLS commissioner Don Garber and several notable guests (see: Tom Brady and Pharrell Williams) in attendance.
Thankfully for Inter Miami, the fledgling club managed to catch a break, flying well under the radar of world soccer headlines — the team’s loss took place during the brief, fraught lifespan of the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't European Super League.
Despite going down to defeat in front of its hometown fans, Inter Miami made up for it in week two with a scrappy, come-from-behind 2-1 win against the Philadelphia Union this past Saturday. Now two games in with a record of 1-1, Inter Miami's inaugural campaign remains a drama-in-progress.
There seems to be plenty of uncertainty surrounding one of the league’s newest organizations as MLS embarks on its 26th season. The second-year club will certainly look to top its 7-3-13 record during the shortened, bubble-format season of 2020.
Inter Miami is attracting a lot of attention for a second-year expansion club. That's largely due to the presence of the aforementioned Beckham, whose quest to bring a championship-caliber club to Miami dates all the way back to 2013. The former English footballer who played for L.A. Galaxy from 2007-12 is without a doubt the de facto face of the organization, despite four co-owners in Marcelo Claure, Jorge and José Mas, and Masayoshi Son.
Some of that uncertainty could also be attributed to the club’s proposed Freedom Park Stadium. The project remains in limbo while club and city officials figure out who should cover the (very high) projected cost associated with cleaning the toxic dump in Miami’s Grapeland Heights area where the proposed stadium complex is to be built.
Inter Miami may have yet to muscle its way closer to the head of the MLS table in 2021, but at least it will have the support of a small but dedicated (and growing) fan base. The club managed to set a DRV PNK Stadium record by drawing a record crowd of 7,939 at the Fort Lauderdale venue for the April 18 match — and that was with COVID-19 limited-capacity guidelines in place.
Following Inter Miami’s impressive comeback win in Philadelphia this past Saturday, New Times spoke to the leaders of two of the soccer club's official support groups — Max Ramos of the Siege and Sebastian Moraga of Vice City 1896 — to gauge their thoughts on the season ahead.
New Times: Two games into its official inaugural season, Inter Miami is even with one win and one loss. What have been some of your observations so far?
Sebastian Moraga: This year’s team, compared to last year’s team, has shown a bunch of improvements already, even after two games. They play a more intense and attacking style of football when last year they got used to defending and chasing the ball for the greater part of 90 minutes. This year we dictate more of the game and control the ball.
Max Ramos: The team definitely looks improved from last season — better overall shape of play, defense is somewhat improving, and the attack is world's better. Robbie Robinson looks like he fits in really well compared to his age. [Joevin] Jones and [Kelvin] Leerdam have been extremely welcomed additions.
How are you feeling about head coach Phil Neville’s leadership qualities so far?
Moraga: You can feel the change of leadership compared to last year. I think it helps that Phil can communicate with Spanish speakers as last year some of the players had to act as translators between the staff and the other players. I think that plays a part in how Phil can lead this team and how much the players can buy into the coaching staff and their style of play.
Ramos: I think his ability to notice faults in players and even himself are showing through. From game one to game two, there was even more comfort in that regard. The fact the team went down in the second half against Philly and didn't turn down it a great relief. And that comes from the manager.
The season opener against L.A. Galaxy saw the club blow two separate leads to eventually lose the match. The players also looked a bit scrappy and maybe even overenergized for the first half against Philadelphia Union, which had hardly any scoring opportunities until after halftime. Do you see these performances as a new team/new season growing pains?
Moraga: Yeah, keep in mind the team still hasn’t played a full season and has yet to face most of the teams in the league. The pace and level of the MLS is still something new to most of the squad, so there are still things that they will have to grow through, but that will come with time.
Ramos: The first game was a rough one. The heat definitely seemed to get to them. The lack of preseason reps due to COVID-19 protocol and cancellation seemed to affect them. I think that will improve as the season moves on.
Does the fact that the club’s home stadium is in Fort Lauderdale for at least another one to two years and not Miami hurt a new franchise’s ability to grow the fan base?
Moraga: At first thought, I think yes, this may hurt the team’s potential to grow, but as long as they can get results on the field, I don’t think they will struggle to grow their fan base. I mean, look at the pictures of the stands with a limited capacity stadium for the home opener.
Ramos: I don't believe so. The club has seemingly become of the South Florida scene rather seemingly. Of course, for Miami-based supporters it is a haul to [DRV PNK Stadium], but the club has made it worth the drive. Also, one can't forget that the pandemic very well delayed efforts. The talks are simple: We want and believe in the [Miami Freedom Park] project; the club does too. I definitely feel it'll be resolved in 2021.
Thoughts on the new kits for this season?
Moraga: The new jersey is beautiful. It’s a lot lighter and more comfortable than last year. I continuously tell people the black and pink combo is the best color combination in the league, but I also may be a little biased. Also, we haven’t lost in the new black jersey yet, so there’s something good about it.
Ramos: La Palma is definitely iconic in comparison to other teams in the league. I love the colors, name, etc. I would want more pink involved on the kits, but we'll get there.
Do you feel the club is doing a good job connecting with the Latin American communities in Miami and the South Florida region?
Moraga: I do think they’re doing a good job with this. They still could improve more on it by really diving into the Latino-heavy communities around Miami. This will come with time. I think they’ve done a great job up so far.
Ramos: It's doing a phenomenal job. This is the only team in the area that operates on a bilingual basis from top to bottom. The nickname, La RosaNegra [the pink-and-black logo color scheme], tells you where this team aims its culture. That will only grow as games become more open to the public and the team starts winning more.
Inter Miami CF returns to action this Sunday, May 2, with an away match against Nashville SC, followed by a home match against Atlanta United FC on Sunday, May 9.
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