Duke, Lassiter trade brings in strong young defender and helps Inter Miami’s long shot chance to sign Messi

Inter Miami has acquired center back Kamal Miller, shown here clearing a ball against New England, from CF Montreal.
Inter Miami has acquired center back Kamal Miller, shown here clearing a ball against New England, from CF Montreal. / Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that didn’t take long. Inter Miami coach Phil Neville hinted after the Herons’ 1-0 loss to FC Dallas this weekend — their fifth straight — that it was time to change things up.

Most fans expect Neville to bench former MLS Most Valuable Player Josef Martinez, and the more optimistic supporters hope Ecuadorian midfielder Dixon Arroyo, reportedly in Miami to finalize his move to La Rosanegra, is ready to step into the gaping hole left by Gregore’s absence since suffering a Lisfranc foot injury against New York City FC in Matchday 3.

The announcement Wednesday that Miami has traded Bryce Duke and Ariel Lassiter to CF Montreal for center back Kamal Miller and $1.3 million in General Allocation Money surprised most observers. After all, Miami’s anemic attack has generated far more hand-wringing than its defense thus far, thanks primarily to goalkeeper Drake Callender’s work between the pipes (which has been rewarded with his first U.S. Men’s National Team call-up!). But after the shock of losing two talented young attacking players passes, one can begin to see sporting director Chris Henderson’s plan.

Henderson and Inter Miami are playing the long game in the short term.

It’s no secret David Beckham and the Mas brothers have ambitions of grandeur for Inter Miami. Their stated goal is to build the South Florida side into one of the globe’s most glamorous clubs and they believe signing the world’s most celebrated player (and his buddy, if necessary) will boost them in that direction.

Lionel Messi — “Leo Legend” (apologies, Mr. Bird) — and his former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets both are out of contract in June and Inter Miami, amazingly, has a slim chance to bring them to MLS for the season’s second half. Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal (backed, many suspect, by the Kingdom’s petroleum-treasure) have offered Messi a scandalously high salary to join old rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League. Meanwhile La Blaugrana, despite its financial challenges, has expressed interest in reuniting Messi and Busquets in Barcelona.

Inter Miami can’t match the financial largesse of Al-Hilal or the emotional allure of Messi’s beloved Barcelona, but Leo and his family have a home in Miami and are said to love the city. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said the league — a single business entity the clubs of which are operated like franchises — would be “flexible” to help bring Messi to the United States. A Spanish sports publication even reported MLS and its owners are willing to share the cost for Messi’s services and let him decide where to play.

If it has any chance to land the legend, Inter Miami will need to make a big play. Shedding Duke’s and Lassiter’s contracts and banking $1.3 million in GAM gives Henderson a little more room to work his magic.

And if Messi doesn’t come to Miami? Well, the Herons still will get Miller, a talented, young (25) center back with World Cup experience who might anchor the Herons’ back line for a decade. That’s not nothing.