Finally, the news South Florida soccer fans have been waiting for: Inter Miami is on the verge of signing its first few players and is “deep, deep in the weeds, having real conversations” with two coach candidates.
The team is in contract negotiations with six or seven players, and the first couple could be signed by July 31, according to Paul McDonough, Inter Miami’s sporting director, who is in charge of building the roster and leading the team’s on-field soccer operations.
Asked if he expected to have the first player signed before the end of July, McDonough said: “Potentially, maybe.” He then added it could be “a couple of players, a few.”
McDonough would not discuss specific players but said fans can expect South American, Central American and Europe-based players on the 30-man roster.
According to various Argentine media outlets, Inter Miami is working on a $6 million deal for 19-year-old Banfield forward Julian Carranza and is also in serious talks with 19-year-old Estudiantes midfielder Matias Pellegrini for as much as $10 million. Both players would likely stay with their clubs through the end of the year and report to Inter Miami sometime between January and March 2020.
Among the high-profile players who have been linked with Inter Miami are Luis Suarez, Hector Moreno, Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez.
“We are in contract negotiations with up to six or seven players, heavily involved in that right now, with all levels of guys,” McDonough said. “We will have announcements coming soon. We’re close. We’d like to have between four and eight signed by September.”
He said the negotiations are complicated because some players require to be moved to another club on loan so they don’t sit dormant for the next six months. There is also a financial puzzle to work out.
The MLS salary cap is $4.24 million, not counting the extra salary of up to three Designated Players, who can make more than the league-maximum $530,000 per year. McDonough, and co-owners Jorge Mas and David Beckham, have said they plan to have three DP’s on the roster.
Recent MLS expansion teams Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC signed their first DP the summer prior to their launch. Atlanta signed Hector Villalba in late July 2016, and L.A. signed Carlos Vela in early August, 2017.
With the inaugural game eight months away, McDonough said Inter Miami’s front office is on an “aggressive, accelerated” schedule to get everything ready in time and addressed questions about the stadium, coach, preseason, minor-league team and ticket plans.
On the stadium: “We’re tracking on time. We’ve got the Lockhart site all done with the City of Fort Lauderdale, which is a really, really big milestone for us. The construction is moving forward at a rapid pace. We’ve demolished it, it’s completely flat, and there’s civil work going on. They’re getting ready to start installing fields in the next couple of weeks, and then getting into foundations.”
On the coach search: “We’ve been talking to coaches for a while. Trying to find the right fit. I don’t want to force it or rush it. Timing is big. Coaches want to be on the field coaching, not sitting in an office for six months. Some are employed, some not employed. MLS experience is not a hard-fast requirement; but if we brought a coach in who did not have MLS experience, then we’d certainly understand there’s a void there and add MLS experience to his immediate support staff.”
On the preseason: “Our plan is to start training at a local university in mid-to-late January and then venture out and go to some sites outside Miami to train and have preseason [a common practice in MLS]. We’ll probably play four to six preseason games by the end of February.”
Popular soccer training sites around Florida include IMG Academy in Bradenton and ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando.
On the USL team/youth academy: “We are finalizing paperwork with the league” to establish a Division II USL team, which would serve as Inter Miami’s minor-league team. “We’ll sign 30 players to the first team, 15 to 18 to the USL team and the Academy is all set. The U18 team will travel to South Korea in early August for a tournament, and the other age groups begin training in August.”
On tickets: The team is taking season-ticket deposits. Seating and pricing information will be announced in August.
McDonough, who had the same job launching Atlanta United, said Miami has been more difficult.
“It’s harder because we’re on such an aggressive, accelerated timeline from a facilities standpoint,” he said. “The academy’s been great, support from local clubs excellent. Interest in the club is really, really good from the player standpoint. The facilities have been really, really difficult, but that’s OK. We like a challenge. I had hoped when I came to Miami that the ownership here was as good as the group in Atlanta, and they have proven to be that good.”