Inter Miami opened with a draw, but there are great things ahead (includes multimedia content)

Inter Miami opened its season Frb. 26 Fort Lauderdale’s DRV Pink Stadium with a hard-fought draw against Chicago.  Whenever it takes the field at home — and the next home game is March 12 against Los Angeles — Nicolas Abad and his fan group, the Siege, will bounce around the stands in support of their beloved club. 

Boasting some of the most passionate fans in Major League Soccer, Inter Miami has yet to reach the elite of American soccer. But entering the team’s third season, fans like Abad are hopeful the building blocks are in place for the future. 

With its location in South Florida, Inter Miami has a growing and diverse fanbase that mirrors the team. 

“This season, it looks like we’ve rebuilt from the ground up,” Abad said. “I think we only have around six players from last year’s team in the squad currently, which is a crazy, complete rebuild. I’ve never experienced something like this on a team that I support.” 

Abad compared Inter’s current rebuilding phase as a club to that of his favorite European club, English Premier League giant Arsenal. The English club have fallen short of expectations in recent seasons, but with a young squad they are finally performing closer to expectations, something Inter will look to do. 

Last year’s team received heavy criticism from fans and media for the squad’s disappointing performance. From a general perspective, Abad said that a negative fanbase can impact a team like Inter.

“I’ve lived through watching Arsenal disintegrate,” Abad said. “I know what it’s like seeing and witnessing a team fall apart not just because of a toxic environment fan wise, but then it seeps through the cracks into the team.”

Supporters like Abad and the Siege back the club’s vision and are in it for the long haul. Inter Miami manager Phil Neville said that the support the fans give the club shows their dedication and passion to the young club and he spent time in the off-season building a team that can give the fans a taste of success. 

“I think that they are the heart and soul of this football club, and there weren’t many positives from my point of view last season, but the support that we received from our supporters was the biggest plus,” Neville said. “I think every day from the end of the season till now, part of my main focus is to give those supporters some success, because I think I think they deserve it.”

In the 2021 season, Inter finished in the 11th position of the eastern conference with a record of 12 wins, 17 losses and five draws. Inter failed to follow up their inaugural season playoff play-in appearance in 2021, but are looking to put themselves back into the playoffs in 2022. 

In an attacking sense Inter Miami relied a lot on the contributions of storied forward Gonzalo Higuaín. Scoring 12 and assisting nine, much of the offensive firepower came from the boot of the Argentinian forward. Neville will be expecting more of the same from Higuaín and expects him to lead the young squad.

“He’s got to make massive efforts now to connect with the rest of the team. And to lead this, this group of young players to success,” Neville said. “It shows you the hunger and desire and durability that man’s got, and he’s going to have to show the same this season and add on add on the other bits in terms of leadership.”

Inter Miami will need a more diverse attack this season to rattle the pink nets at DRV Pink Stadium and send the crowd into a frenzy more frequently. Higuaín and winger Robbie Robinson will likely be the primary attacking threats once more. The output of those two will rely heavily on the creativity from the midfielders. 

A primary concern in the off-season was addressing the defensive needs. Last season Inter Miami conceded 53 goals, the third most in the eastern conference of MLS. One of the league’s shakiest defenses, the club prioritized retooling the backline and did so by bringing in five new defenders, including Swedish full-back Christopher McVey and Jamaican center back Damion Lowe.

One of their biggest transfers was bringing in United States Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin. Playing the last seven years in Europe, Yedlin joins the club from Turkish giants Galatasaray. His explosive talent and experience address a huge need at the back for the club.

“He is a very talented, exciting and dynamic player on the pitch,” said Chris Henderson, Inter Miami sporting director. “He’s an experienced winner who is also a positive character in the locker room.”

Abad, although admitting his frustrations with last season’s team, is a fan of Inter Miami’s recent transfer business and says there are things to be excited about going forward despite the negative scrutiny.

Abad also explained how he is fully aware of the current reality of the team overall, and how Inter as a whole has not reached the levels that they should be at.

The Siege, being one of Inter Miami’s three official supporters’ groups, are standing with the team and cheering them on no matter what, which is something they have been proving in previous seasons. Good or bad performance, they continue to be heavily involved within the team in many aspects.

Abad said that, more than anything else, the Siege’s goal is to push the team to victory, enjoy the moment and have fun. He goes in-depth about the Siege’s gameday antics and how they compare to the other supporters’ groups.

With an overhaul of the squad and players hungry to prove themselves, Inter Miami will need to set the tone early on in their season if they want to make it to the playoffs. Matches against LAFC, New England and Seattle will serve as benchmarks for where the squad currently are compared to the league’s better sides. 

If Neville can get the best out of his players this season, the club may find themselves back in the playoffs come the end of the season. The expectation from the club is that this young squad can begin competing now and only grow more dangerous as the years go by. 

With all the preseason work and the remaking of the team in the transfer window, the excitement is high around the club, however the fact remains that Inter Miami needs it’s highest league finish ever to make a postseason run. The pressure is one Neville to finish in the top seven and solidify Inter Miami as a legitimate MLS squad that’ll be a consistent playoff threat.

“With the new team and the big changes that we’ve made. We have to remain patient and let this team grow and develop,” Neville said. “But if we do our jobs, right, and we put them together and we connect together as a team on the pitch and off the pitch, then I think we can compete.”  

Liam Rooney is a junior majoring in digital journalism and a staff writer for PantherNOW’s sports section. Liam would like to continue his career journey in the world of sports media after he graduates.

Julian Febres is a senior at Florida University studying journalism. He was born in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida into a fully Puerto Rican family and never fails to express his Latino pride. He is passionate about writing, soccer, music, and fashion. His dream is to be able to freely write about all his interests and spread positivity and good energy at all times.