smarterthinking

Inter Miami is another MLS team with a patchy back half

Owner David Beckham was a midfielder. Head coach Diego Alonso was a striker. Sporting director Paul McDonough was an agent at Wasserman. So Inter Miami’s brand-new defensive lineup must be straight fire, right? Well… at least we can check them all out – the veterans, the imports, the call-ups – using an MLS standard, to see how they might perform this season.

We’ll start at GK. Luis Robles may be 35, but he’s still a good shot-stopper – in fact outstanding on headers in open play – and the quality of his defending has stayed high even as he’s gotten a bit more relaxed at the back. His ball retention followed the four-year slide at New York Red Bulls, but he may be able to get some of it back. John McCarthy, who came up from Tampa Bay in the USL, is very good in open play but mediocre from dead balls, though he’s a more aggressive defender:

Both GKs are used to playing a very direct style where they have the option of bringing the ball forward themselves, so that might be a clue to how Alonso wants to come out of the back. And both are decent options, though neither is a world-beater. We expect Alonso to trust Robles’s experience and ability to marshal the back line.

The big signing at central defender was Nico Figal, who was in and out of the squad with injuries for a few seasons at Independiente in Argentina. He’s a high-quality defender overall for MLS, though he’s predicted to be below average in duels, especially on the ground. The question will be whether Inter Miami can keep him healthy. Backing him up at LCB will be Grant Lillard, who’s played about 1,500’ of senior football across two seasons, and Mikey Ambrose from Atlanta. Ambrose played just under 600’ at LCB for Atlanta United II last season and was excellent – with a similar style to Figal’s, too – so he may be the dark horse.

If Figal starts on the left, RCB may be occupied by the veteran Roman Torres, who petered out at Seattle over the past couple of seasons. He’s still good in the air in open play and can attack the opposing box, but at 33 he doesn’t have much left in terms of defending and keeping possession:

There’s more promising news at fullback, with Ben Sweat coming off a great season for NYCFC at LB. He’s got great overall numbers and is dominant in the air for his position:

Alvas Powell endured a rougher year at Cincinnati, yet he was a strong defender for Portland and is fantastic on the ball. The backups here are a mixed bag. Ambrose can fill in at LB, but veteran A.J. De La Garza is probably past it at RB. Denso Ulysse has shown some promise in USL, and at 21 could be ready for a breakout season.

At DM, old MLS hands Wil Trapp and Victor Ulloa will supposedly share the duties, though in the past they’ve had quite different roles. Last season at Cincinnati, Ulloa strayed to the left and got forward quite a bit – a tendency suited to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 with two DMs. Trapp stayed at home more for Columbus, playing much more centrally, as you’d expect in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 with two CMs (which they didn’t often play!):

So we’ll have to see how Alonso chooses to use the two right-footers on his maiden season in MLS. At 19, Christian Makoun, who signed from Zamora, may be too inexperienced to make an impact at CB or DM.

All in all, the back half for Inter Miami is hardly enough to set our corazon aflutter. But, like most MLS clubs these days, David Beckham’s team has put most of its money up front. We’ll check out their attacking options in our next piece.

[Photo: US Embassy London]

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