FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It might be early days, but it is safe to say that Nico Figal has made a good first impression on his Inter Miami peers.
Figal arrived to the United States and joined the MLS expansion side a little over a month ago, and has wasted no time in standing out to teammates both at practice and in games with his solid play. The Argentine centerback is still adapting to his new team and league, of course, and granted he has only played in one official match thus far.
Still, the early reviews are positive.
“I just know right now from what I’ve seen in preseason, he’s very good on the ball and he gives us something special,” said Inter Miami captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles. “As we look to lock down some of the more talented forwards, we want a guy that not only we can be confident in knowing that we put their best player against him and he’s going to completely lock them down. But then when we go forward we have a guy that’s going to be an asset.
“I think that’s going to be him.”
Figal certainly showed some of those qualities in Week 1. Helping to mark an LAFC front line comprised of reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, and Brian Fernandez, the 25-year-old defender put out a number of fires in Inter Miami’s half via timely interceptions, clearances, and tackles. Figal’s performance was one of the reasons why Inter Miami only suffered a 1-0 loss in its season opener in Los Angeles, though he was involved in the build-up to the stunning winner scored by Vela just before halftime.
It was not just Figal’s defensive contributions that made him impress on Sunday, however. The technical Figal showcased some attacking qualities as well, making a confident penetrating run on the dribble into LAFC’s half on one occasion in the first half and delivering a forward pass before racing up the field to join in on the attack on another in the second.
“If the situation arrives and the opportunity to go forward is there, I am always one try to anticipate and jump into the attack and be one more midfielder,” said Figal in Spanish. “I like doing that, and it is what characterizes me.”
If Figal can be as confident on a weekly basis as he was against LAFC, Inter Miami will have quite the player to partner with Roman Torres in the heart of the defense during this expansion season. What’s more, the relatively recent signing from Argentine club Independiente should only get better the more he adjusts to his new teammates and life in MLS.
“He’s a really confident player,” said Robles. “He’s the type of player that we need in this squad. As we look to continue to work on our tactics and our build out, he’s an important player for us.”
That last bit will be almost as important as any.
With Inter Miami head coach Diego Alonso seeking to deploy a playing style that emphasizes building out of the back, Figal’s passing and technical abilities will be vital in executing that brand of soccer. Hitting an inaccurate or weak initial ball can ruin any sequence and instantly transform into oncoming danger, but Inter Miami is more than confident in Figal’s ability to initiate play.
Just as it is with his defending. Just as it is with his capacity to get forward. Just as it is with his overall skill set.
“I think Nico is a very talented centerback and I feel very fortunate to have him in front of me,” said Robles. “I know that his game is only going to continue to grow, develop, and adapt to this league.”