Hapless Inter Miami is more likely to lift the Wooden Spoon this year than make the league’s expanded playoffs, but it still has a real shot to add a trophy in 2023.
The imminent arrival of former Barcelona teammates Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and that other guy, the midfielder — Lionel Messi? — in Fort Lauderdale has dominated South Florida soccer news but, remember, La Rosanegra will play FC Cincinnati in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals Aug. 23 at TQL Stadium.
The semifinals! Somehow, the second-worst team in all of Major League Soccer is two wins away from earning one of the three most-coveted prizes in U.S. soccer.
For those who don’t know, the Wooden Spoon is NOT in that group. It’s an imaginary and dubious award bestowed upon the league’s worst team at the end of each season. The Herons have avoided winning this honor through their first three seasons, but with just 18 points in 21 matches, it’s a real possibility. Colorado is in last place in the Western Conference with 17 points, also in 21 matches, and Toronto is a single point ahead of Inter Miami in the East after 23 matches played; everyone else has at least 22 points.
Injuries and international duty, two coaching changes (kinda) and the season long distraction presented by ownership’s wooing Les Blaugrana alumni have combined to torpedo the Herons’ season, but the ship isn’t sunk just yet.
Supporter’s Shield (the prize for having the league’s best regular season record? Mathematically…nah, never mind. MLS Cup? Mmmm? No. A playoff berth? Highly unlikely but, not completely beyond imagining. Messi, Alba, Busquets, who knows?
Most fans of the Pink are focused on Sunday’s official introduction of the Barcelona alumni and the July 21 Leagues Cup match against Mexican side Cruz Azul at DRV PNK Stadium, but I’m really excited for the Open Cup semifinal a month later.
Think of it; a month more coaching by new boss Tata Martino, who took charge just yesterday. A month more practicing with and playing beside the three world class newcomers. A month more to learn what this Herons side can become. The magisterial minstrel of South Florida soccer, Ray Hudson, is effusive in his anticipation of the new Inter Miami. Michelle Kaufman, the Miami Herald’s soccer reporter, quoted the maestro of the microphone in a story published yesterday (see link above):
“It’s like Shakespeare, Rembrandt and Beethoven have arrived in a museum and said `We’d like to play together. You want to hang our works in your museum?’” Hudson said. “And then the ownership’s clear vision that they need a world class coach, and they get that, as well. Tata Martino’s a tremendous coach who had phenomenal success in Atlanta. He really knows the league, had an amazing career, and `Oh, yeah, by the way, he was born in the same city as Leo Messi.’ The words just can’t describe this mosaic of absolute bewilderment of how they’ve all come together for this go around with these players of such supreme technique and speed of thought.”
Martino also coached all three players at Barcelona and Messi with the Argentine national team. I expect that familiarity to give the newcomers, including Tata, a sense of confidence and security from the start (as if any of them need reassuring) AND to give Tata an advantage teaching the current Herons how Martino wants to practice and play.
Aside from the aligning of the stars that allowed Inter Miami to bring these legends to Florida, it’s been a very forgettable season for the Herons. Winning a trophy would be a nice reward for the players who’ve fought through it, and the fans who’ve stuck with them.
And, with Messi & Co. rounding into form by mid-August, it’s a realistic goal. Winning the U.S. Open Cup would be more than a consolation prize for the Pink. It would be a coming-out party; a declaration of intent.
Circle your calendars: Aug. 23 in Cincinnati, then Sept. 27 against Houston or Real Salt Lake.
Freedom to dream, Miami. Let’s go!