The new wave of expansion franchises in Major League Soccer are not immune to high expectations, especially given the early successes in the models used by both Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC.
Inter Miami CF, with one of soccer’s icons as the face of its franchise in team president David Beckham, look to follow that path as they play their first match in club history Sunday against 2019 Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC.
Beckham, who helped MLS gain credibility internationally during his time with the Los Angeles Galaxy after a standout career in Europe that included stops at globally recognized clubs Manchester United and Real Madrid as well as England, exercised his $25 million option to buy an MLS franchise in 2014 after his retirement.
It has taken six seasons for that dream to come to fruition for Beckham, but he has already shown a savvy businessman’s acumen in his new role – one of his biggest deals came in the form of sponsorship for the club as they signed a $230 million sponsorship deal with Qatar in February.
«Obviously it’s a very proud moment,» Beckham told the club’s official website. «Just to be here now, to see the team for the first time in training – obviously I’ve seen video and clips of the team training over the last month – but to physically be in our facility and to see the amazing work that’s been done and what’s been created here with the team and the players, our family, it’s a very proud moment for us.»
«At this point we’re just very excited to actually get to LA and feel the atmosphere,» he added. «We’re going to enjoy the occasion.»
On the field, coach Diego Alonso has an intriguing mix of MLS veterans sprinkled at every position along with a pair of foreign Designated Players who will hopefully carry Inter at least into playoff contention if not the postseason. Luis Robles, named the first captain in club history, will be the No. 1 keeper after recording 72 shutouts in 238 matches for the New York Red Bulls over the last eight seasons.
Roman Torres, formerly of Seattle, and Independiente’s Nicolas Figal are expected to be the spine of the back four, flanked by Ben Sweat and No. 3 overall pick in the SuperDraft Dylan Nealis. In the midfield, Wil Trapp arrives from Columbus and Victor Ulloa form a steady base in central midfield for Alonso’s expected 4-2-3-1 set-up while linking with Rodolfo Pizarro.
Pizarro is expected to be the linchpin of Inter Miami’s offense, having arrived with Alonso from Monterrey in Mexico. He will be providing service to Lewis Morgan and 19-year-old Matias Pellegrini on the wings.
Fellow teen Julian Carranza is expected to be sidelined until May with a foot injury, which means No. 1 overall pick Robbie Robertson could lead the line. Robertson scored 18 goals in 19 matches for Clemson last season en route to claiming the Hermann Trophy as the top collegiate soccer player.
All that potential faces a very tall measuring stick in the form of Los Angeles FC (21-4-9), which spent most of its second season in the MLS rewriting the league’s record book. LAFC set single-season records for points and highest goal differential (plus-48) and matched the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy for most goals scored with 85. They also tied a league standard for fewest losses while becoming the fastest team to reach 100 points, needing just 53 matches.
On an individual front, Carlos Vela set a single-season MLS record with 34 goals, bettering the mark Atlanta’s Josef Martinez set in 2018. Vela also set a single-season mark for combined goals and assists as he set up 15 tallies. The Mexico international combined with Diego Rossi for 50 goals and is already the league’s top Mexican scorer with 48 goals.
Yet all those superlatives only resulted in one piece of silverware – the Supporters’ Shield as the league’s top point earner. Los Angeles FC was eliminated in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals by Portland and after surviving a postseason derby versus the Galaxy in the conference semifinals, were upended by eventual MLS Cup champion Seattle one game short of the goal.
Vela and Rossi appear to be in fine form as LAFC overturned a two-goal deficit Thursday night to defeat Leon 3-2 on aggregate to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Vela had a brace on either side of halftime, pulling the Black-and-Gold level on aggregate in the 77th minute before Rossi struck the tie-winner two minutes later.
«Every guy put everything they had into it,» LAFC coach Bob Bradley said, «and that’s what makes a special night. We were committed to closing the ball down and making sure we would make it a hard game and push them out of their comfort zone.
«From year to year we try to get better and evolve, to understand to win different kinds of games. We have to win games where sometimes we push the tempo higher and higher and we test teams to see if teams can play at that tempo.»
LAFC has turned Banc of California Stadium into a fortress quickly with just four losses in 37 matches there (23-4-10). They also have been shutout just four times there while outscoring opponents 88-44.