When Gregore left the Yankee Stadium field March 11 with an injured foot, Inter Miami fans' interest in Barcelona and Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets ratcheted up a notch.
It didn't last long. Busquets, whose Barcelona contract ends in June, has expressed interest in playing in South Florida and Inter Miami coach Phil Neville said earlier this month the team is interested in signing the Spaniard (and his former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi). But even if the all-world midfielder did sign with the Herons, he wouldn't be available until after LaLiga's season ends in June.
The Herons can't wait that long to replace Gregore de Magalhães da Silva who, like many Brazilian players, is known simply by his first name. The 29-year-old defensive midfielder is the team's captain, a stabilizing force on the field and in the locker room, and a man Neville has called "the heart and soul" of the team.
Gregore underwent surgery last week and is expected to miss six months. The Herons' 2-0 loss at Toronto on Saturday was the first of 22 MLS matches Gregore will miss, almost two thirds of the regular season. With Gregore on the pitch, Inter Miami kept two clean sheets and didn't allow the opposition to score in another (but lost on a Christopher McVey own-goal). In one match without him, the midfield was porous, often out of position and scrambling after the ball.
With Gregore, the Herons looked like a team that would be hosting playoff soccer in October. Without him, if the Toronto match is any indication, they'll be scratching for a spot in the expanded MLS Playoffs.
Jean Mota, Gregore's partner in the central midfield, has the physicality and experience to take up some of the slack created by the captain's absence, but he is more effective getting forward, linking the midfield with the Herons' attacking players (the offense has injury woes of its own, but that's another story). Bryce Duke has the will and the courage, but he lacks size and experience. Victor Ulloa and youngster Benjamin Cremaschi will get opportunities to show their up to the job, but I don't believe the answer is on Miami's roster.
Chris Henderson, Inter Miami's chief soccer officer and sporting director, has proven to be a more than capable roster builder at Seattle and in South Florida. He has until April 24 -- the MLS transfer window deadline -- to bring in a veteran defensive midfielder who fits the team's chemistry and can plug the Gregore-sized hole in the midfield.
The Herons' season depends on it.