January 23, 2024, by Joseph Lowery | Courtesy of www.mlssoccer.com
Inter Miami CF’s preseason tour – a Jules Verne-esque trip Around the World in (less than) Eighty Days that hits El Salvador, Texas, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Japan and, eventually, Miami – is well underway.
Expectations are sky-high entering 2024, arguably more than any team in MLS history.
What will the attack look like?
We all got a taste of that last week in Miami’s matchup with El Salvador’s national team:
But what about the other puzzle pieces?
As preseason continues, Martino will pay special attention to how the rest of his attack functions around those superstars. Free-agent signing Julian Gressel will undoubtedly be a key part; if the US internationallearns to read the movement of Suárez and Messi when they're in the box, Inter Miami will be way harder to stop. Last year, Miami became too one-dimensional in the final third, funneling anything and everything through Messi. This year, he’ll have help in the attack.
Now, there will be questions about Miami’s best shape: Martino preferred a 4-3-3 last year, with a bit of 3-5-2 thrown in along the way. That tendency may flip this year, with Miami having spent more time training the 3-5-2 in preseason.
Regardless of what formation prevails, Inter Miami’s ability to create chances in both shapes while applying solid rest defense principles will be key as they tackle various competitions in 2024.
2. Who steps up with Facundo Farías injured?
There’s no way to spin this into a positive: it sucks. You can’t help but feel for Farías, whose face held real concern from the moment he went down at the Estadio Cuscatlán. Injuries are so often the worst part of sports, and that’s very much the case with Farias, who is now dealing with the second ACL injury of his young career.
While they facilitate the Argentine's recovery process, Miami have to determine what to do without Farías. Do they try to squeeze enough minutes out of depth pieces in other parts of the squad to cover for his absence? Or do they put Farías on the Season-Ending Injury List to free up his U22 Initiative spot and sign a replacement, provided the new player keeps them within the salary cap?
Given Miami’s willingness to spend, I’d be shocked if they don’t land on that second option. Though it could create a pile-up of U22s for 2025, signing another attacker who can play 2,500 minutes across all competitions will be key as Martino looks to rotate his squad. Everyone in Miami will want that player signed and integrated as soon as possible.
3. What does the center back depth chart look like?
In a fun, potentially Wilfried Nancy-inspired twist, Miami ran out DeAndre Yedlin as a right-sided center back in a 3-5-2 to kick off their preseason slate against El Salvador. Yedlin, a veteran right back, didn’t shine in that role… but he didn’t crumble, either. Does the 30-year-old US international have a future there? Yedlin’s presence as a right-sided center back clears space for Gressel to hold the width as a wingback on that same side.
As preseason continues, Miami will get a better read on whether Yedlin is a legitimate option at center back. If he is, an already tactically flexible team gets even more flexible. But it’s also worth noting how Yedlin shifted back to his more typical outside back role for Miami’s matchup with FC Dallas.
Miami’s backline has also been bolstered by the addition of Nicolás Freire, a 29-year-old center back from Liga MX side Pumas UNAM. Freire, 19-year-old Tomás Avilés and veteran Sergii Kryvtsov, along with Noah Allen, Yedlin and a couple of deeper depth options, make up a strong center back group. How those players mesh and learn to complement each other will be one of the defining themes of Miami’s preseason.
4. How does Gregore play next to Busquets in midfield?
Sergio Busquets runs the show. He ran it for FC Barcelona. He ran it for Spain. Now he’s running it in Miami.
To maximize Busquets’ touches and impact in 2024, Miami’s other central midfielders have to be active in every phase of the game. They have to engage the ball quickly after Miami lose it. They have to press to create turnovers that end up at Busquets’ feet. They have to move well off the ball to create passing lanes, or even tiny slivers of green grass, for Busquets to find.
Gregore, formerly Miami’s midfield stalwart who recovered from a foot injury late in 2023, will be responsible for doing all of those things. He’s likely to be the veteran No. 8 while one of Benjamin Cremaschi and Diego Gómez compete for the other No. 8 spot, with Jean Mota fighting for minutes, too. The catch? Gregore has hardly played as a dual No. 8 in front of a single pivot in his MLS career. Instead, he’s mostly played as half of a double pivot behind a No. 10.
In preseason, we’re going to get closer to finding out how Gregore fits in Miami’s midfield group. We’ll see how aggressive he is next to Busquets, and how those two work together to help control games. If they can find the right balance, it’s easy to imagine Miami causing big problems for opposing teams, even when those teams sell out to stop Busquets.
5. How effective is the defensive approach?
From the minute Messi, Busquets and Jordi Alba set foot on the field for Inter Miami last season, the team’s defensive approach became clear. Messi and his No. 9 would form a sort of front two, while the other eight outfield players built two banks of protection behind them.
At times, Miami would press. But their typical approach when playing against the ball involved a lot of defending in a mid-block 4-4-2 or 5-3-2.
With Suárez’s arrival reinforcing the need for a compact approach behind the front line, we can expect those same principles this year.
But with Miami tape now floating around the soccer world, how will they react to teams drawing up savvy game plans to break through their block?
Nailing their team-wide defensive rotations will be essential during a long season filled with opponents who have the Herons' name circled on their respective schedules. For individuals, especially Miami’s right-sided players who are tasked with covering some of Messi’s ground, preseason is the time to show complete defensive dedication.
If there’s going to be a crack in Inter Miami’s 2024 season, it’s likely to be in their defensive system or execution. Preseason, then, is a great time to start working out the kinks.
Joseph Lowery -@joeclowery