Inter Miami needs a Messi miracle to reach the MLS playoffs

What have you signed up to, Lionel? Inter Miami is rock bottom of MLS’s Eastern Conference after winning just ONCE in 10 games… it has only just changed managers and needs some Messi magic to reach the playoffs

  • Miami are nine points adrift of the playoff places with just eight matches to play
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When he finally makes his grand arrival in Miami this month, Lionel Messi will be greeted by a demoralized locker room at its lowest ebb after nine straight league games without a victory. 

A team in such disarray can hardly ask for more than perhaps one of the greatest footballers of all hopping on board its sinking ship. And if they are to snatch a place in this season’s playoffs, Miami is in desperate need of some Messi magic to steer them back to shore.

Tuesday night’s 2-2 tie with Columbus Crew, and a last-gasp one at that thanks to Josef Martinez’s sensational acrobatic leveler in the 90th minute, extended its winless MLS run to nine games and kept them dead last of the Eastern Conference.

Montreal, who currently hold the much-coveted final playoff spot in ninth, is as many points clear of them in the standings, leaving Tata Martino’s men with a mountain to climb heading into the final eight games of the regular season.

Lionel Messi will be walking into an Inter Miami locker room in disarray later this month

Miami has now gone nine straight league games without recording a single victory in that time

David Beckham’s franchise is in disarray and sits rock bottom of the Eastern Conference

With Messi and Sergio Busquets expected to be unveiled on July 16, before potentially making their debuts against Mexican club Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup five days later, Miami will be left red-faced if two of Europe’s finest players of the last 15 years arrive to find their team will not be involved in the season’s gripping conclusion.

And given its struggle to put more than a point on the board for close to two months, with its last league victory coming all the way back on May 13, that is a realistic possibility for a side in need of a nine-point swing between now and mid-October.

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So what is going so drastically wrong for David Beckham’s franchise?

Miami’s difficulties can be traced all the way back to 2021, when they were found guilty of violating MLS’s salary budget and roster guidelines during the 2020 season.

After being accused of incorrectly categorizing new signings Blaise Matuidi and Andres Reyes, who MLS claimed should have been registered in one of its three designated player slots, and failing to disclose agreements regarding the salaries of three other players, Miami was docked $2,300,000 from its budget for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

This left the club with a total of $19.16m to spend across those two campaigns, with the deduction amounting to to 12 percent of its salary budget during that time. 

And as a result, Miami has been hindered in the trade and transfer market over the past two years, preventing the club from truly strengthening its roster and leaving them with deficiencies all across the field.

The squad has been poorly constructed in that time, with the likes of Martinez – formerly of Torino and Atlanta – and Ecuador international Leonardo Campana two of the only players with any real pedigree.

Miami’s problems can be traced back to 2021, when it was docked its budgets for the 2022 and 2023 seasons after being found guilty of violating league roster rules

As a result, the club has been hindered in the trade and transfer markets ever since, preventing them from truly strengthening their squad

This will of course change emphatically when Messi walks through the door later this month. Yet will he, in the twilight of his career, be able to carry the weight of such a mediocre team on his back?

After Martinez and Campana, Miami’s next top scorer so far this season is Argentine forward Nicolas Stefanelli, who previously plied his trade in Sweden, Chile and Greece and the lower leagues of his home country. A far cry from the caliber of players Messi has surrounded himself with over the past two decades at Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.

Stefanelli has also scored three goals in 23 appearances this season, speaking volumes about the current impotence Martino’s men are suffering in the final third. Martinez, one of the standout players of this stuttering side, has only found the back of the net on six occasions himself.

Defensively, Miami is by no means leakier than most in the division. It has conceded 31 goals in 20 games this season, less than 10th-place Charlotte and seventh-place Atlanta, which has both shipped 35. Columbus, which currently occupies fourth, has only conceded two less goals on 29.

Inter could be tighter at the back, yet keeping goals out is not the most pressing issue for Martino right now. Going forward, his team has the joint-second worst offensive record with a mere 20 goals, which equates to one per game. For a team with aspirations of slowly bridging the gap between themselves and the top dogs of the division, this is far from good enough.

Josef Martinez is one of few players in Inter’s ranks who obtains some kind of pedigree

The former Torino and Atlanta player is their top scorer this season, but has only found the back of the net six times

Ecuador international Leonardo Campana is another of the club’s leading players right now

Former coach Phil Neville paid the price for Miami’s struggles earlier in the season, with Beckham forced to give his close friend the boot after a fourth defeat on the bounce. 

Some may also argue that hiring Neville in the first place, an ex-Premier League player with zero experience in charge of a senior men’s outfit prior to his move to the States, has held the franchise back over the past two years.

Did Beckham pay the price for an act of cronyism? For bringing one of his buddies over from England and handing him the reins? On the pitch, it can’t be disputed that Miami has gone backwards after an encouraging end to the 2022 campaign.

Four consecutive victories at the back end of the season saw Neville’s team sneak into the playoffs, where they were ultimately swept aside by New York City in comfortable fashion. Nevertheless, having bounced back from a run of three straight losses to make it there in the first place, there were positives to take ahead of the 2023 season.

Yet in the end, Miami was unable to build on its strong finish to the previous campaign, instead losing six of its first eight games to pile the pressure on Neville and dampen spirits in the locker room.

Phil Neville paid the price for Miami’s impotence in front of goal and dismal winless run

Many believe Beckham held the franchise back by hiring his close friend and former teammate

There was a temporary turn of the tide when the former Manchester United and Everton star guided them to three consecutive wins at the end of April and early May, however this eventually proved a false dawn and Neville fell victim to the chop when four more defeats followed.

In Martino, Beckham has replaced his good pal with a superior coach in many aspects. For a start, his experience dwarfs that of Neville’s, with his career spanning more than two decades and including stints with Barcelona and Argentina.

There is a realistic hope that, with Martino at the helm, and two of his former Barca players set to join him, Miami will be better equipped for a less problematic campaign in 2024. Under the new coach, Inter has already scored two goals in a game for the first time since May 7. 

So, could the team even end up snatching a playoff place this term?

Messi will need to sprinkle some stardust on this beleaguered franchise to make it possible. Tough fixtures against the likes of Nashville, Orlando City and Eastern Conference leaders Cincinnati remain.

In Tata Martino, the MLS outfit now has a coach with significantly more experience

Yet Beckham and Co. are still crying out for Messi to sprinkle some stardust on the club

Though, so often in his career the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has defied all expectation and logic by pulling off the unthinkable. As recently as December, six months shy of his 36th birthday, he played a starring role in Argentina’s first World Cup triumph since 1986.

It was only two years ago that he produced a return of 38 goals in 47 outings for Barcelona. A slight dip by his usual freakish standards, yet that only emphasizes the previous two words.

Last season in France’s Ligue 1, by far a more advanced league than America’s MLS, Messi was on hand with 21 goals in 41 appearances, almost a goal every two games. What Miami would do for a similar output from him…

If he hits the ground running over in the States, don’t bet against Messi propelling Miami up the table and saving its season.

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