By Alex Windley.
2021 will be a make or break year for Inter Miami.
Last year was largely a throwaway season. With an underperforming team, off-the-field issues, and lack of heart on the pitch, Miami did not live up to their lofty expectations.
An offseason front office overhaul saw the appointment of Phil Neville as head coach and former Miami Fusion player Chris Henderson as Sporting Director. The roster was also revamped, reinforcing the midfield with Gregore and upgrading the fullback spots with Kieran Gibbs, Kelvin Leerdam, and Joevin Jones.
However, for the team to be successful, Miami’s stars need to come out and shine. It’s imperative that these three players come out of the gates swinging if the club wants to make a real run in the playoffs this year.
Phil Neville has high expectations for Rodolfo Pizarro.
The 27-year-old is coming off a four-goal, four-assist season where he helped Miami scrape into the playoffs. This year, expect him to take a much larger role in the team’s offensive setup. Neville wants Pizarro to get more touches on the ball, it’s evident based on the way he’s talked about him during press conferences:
Neville on Rodolfo and Gonzalo:
“Pizarro and Gonzalo are those players that make you successful. We’re making sure the two of them get lots of touches on the ball. They’ve trained in every session so far. They know it’s a big season for the both of them.”
— Alex Windley ☀️ (@aaw_1998) March 16, 2021
Just recently, Inter Miami held an intrasquad scrimmage [friendly] to prepare for their upcoming season. During that scrimmage, Pizarro was the engine that made the attack tick.
He was dropping deep, defending when he could, and always looking to play in a teammate. He was playing the highest up the pitch of the three central midfielders, almost every offensive movement went through him.
If Inter Miami wants to take the next step, Pizarro having an outstanding year will be key.
After a disappointing 2020, Gonzalo Higuain will look to cement himself as Miami’s main attacking outlet. If Pizarro is the engine then Higuain is the man to finish what the Mexican starts. With only one goal in nine appearances last season, the 33-year-old will need to have a lights-out season if Miami wants to achieve their goals.
Much like Pizarro, Higuain’s offensive output will be crucial if Miami wants to be successful. His ability to drop deep help with the link-up play, and bring his teammates into the attack will open up the flanks where players like Lewis Morgan and Robbie Robinson can sneak in behind the opposition and do the most damage.
Like most players who come to MLS after a lengthy career in Europe, there’s a period of adjustment where they need to get acclimated to a new league. Expect Higuain to have a significantly better 2021 season.
Of all the players on this list that have received the most criticism, Blaise Matuidi is target number one. The Frenchman’s arrival to MLS was a big deal, but, his on-the-field performances were lacking. Perhaps the most notable instance of this was when Nashville SC midfielder Dax McCarty flew past him, scoring a goal in the process, on the way to a 3-0 win for the men in yellow.
Coming into 2021, the 34-year-old seems fit, re-vitalized, and ready to show his quality on the pitch. In order for Inter Miami to take the next step this season, they need Matuidi to adapt quickly and to form a solid partnership with new midfield signing Gregore.
Not only is the Brazilian younger than Matuidi, but he’ll also be the anchor of the midfield, allowing the Frenchman to shuttle up and down the pitch without worrying about defense.
Like Higuain, players who come to MLS after a career in Europe do take a while to adjust to the league, with Matuidi it should be no different.
As Inter Miami begins their second season in MLS, if they want to improve upon their woeful 2020, Pizarro, Higuain, and Matuidi must bring their A-game.