Inter Miami is days away from starting the 2021 season, but the team will not be at peak fitness for the first game of the year.
Expect plenty of substitutions on Sunday as a result.
Three days separate Inter Miami from the start of the new MLS campaign, but the South Florida side is heading into its home opener vs. the LA Galaxy on Sunday under less-than-ideal circumstances. Six Inter Miami friendlies were canceled this preseason due to various reasons and the team played only twice against opposing teams. What’s more, the Herons only just got back to training in full within the past week after a COVID outbreak in the group put a brief halt to preparations.
The consequence of all that is that players have not been able to condition properly, meaning several of them are not ready to play 90 minutes just yet.
“I think physically we will not be 100 percent match fit on Sunday,” said head coach Phil Neville on Thursday. “I think that is why I look at the squad and think the 11 who start are massively important, but (so too are) the people on the bench, nine (reserves) plus we can use five subs.
“There is going to be strategic substitutions throughout the game from halftime (on), I am almost convinced. I think the team with the strongest bench, the team that makes the best substitutions will probably have a major effect on the game on Sunday and that is something well within our thought process at this moment in time when we are structurally looking at the process for selecting the team.”
With players not at their best physically, Neville will have to weigh whether he wants to field his strongest lineup against the Galaxy or one that has more players capable of lasting from whistle to whistle. There is a lot Neville is looking at right now, including who is best suited to start, who is best to come in later, and when changes should be made.
Making matters even more difficult is that Sunday’s season opener is scheduled to start at 3 pm ET when the temperature is forecasted to be around 88 degrees. Still, Inter Miami is convinced that it can still get the job done this weekend.
“There are no excuses as to not having an ideal preseason,” said right winger Lewis Morgan. “We have been working and we have been waiting since November 20, or whenever we played Nashville, to get back on the field and everyone is just ready to go now.”
NEVILLE SET TO NAME TEAM CAPTAIN
Gonzalo Higuain finished the 2020 season as Inter Miami captain, but Neville did not commit to saying whether the Argentine striker would keep the armband this year.
Neville stated Thursday that he would make an announcement regarding his captain on Friday or Saturday ahead of Sunday’s match. The Inter Miami manager did not say outright which players he is considering for the honor, but revealed that there are “four leaders” and “four captains” within the group.
“For me, the armband is just a piece of cloth that you put on your sleeve,” said Neville. “I look more for how many captains, how many leaders can we develop within the team. What I want and I think the most important is ingredient is when I look about what I want to implement into the team — behaviors, values, qualities, characters — I want my captains to have those qualities all, to have the ability to influence (into) the group my philosophy because ultimately I do not want to be like a policeman or policewoman standing over them all the time telling them what they can and what they cannot do.
“I want them to have a dressing room full of leaders that will police themselves, that keep the standards high, that keep the discipline well, and that can manage themselves against my values. That for a coach is ideal, utopia. It is not often you get that but that is something that I really want to develop within this football club.”
NEVILLE PROVIDES UPDATES ON ABSENT PLAYERS
Inter Miami opened part of Thursday’s practice session to media, and there remained a few notable absences from the team.
Brek Shea, Jay Chapman, Christian Makoun, Patrick Seagrist, George Acosta, and Felipe Valencia were all missing from the morning training session, and Neville provided an update on a few of them. The Englishman said Valencia and Acosta were training with USL side Fort Lauderdcale CF, Makoun was doing some “end-stage running” and might be back in training on Friday, and Shea and Chapman have “slight knocks.”
Neville did not elaborate on what Makoun and Chapman were dealing with and if they were options for Sunday, but stated that Shea’s status was up in the air.
“Brek Shea has got a little bit of a back strain at this moment in time,” said Neville. “We are hoping he is going to be okay for Sunday. We will probably know more tomorrow. I would say he is 50-50, being totally honest.”
Additionally, Inter Miami announced after practice on Thursday that Seagrist had been sent on a season-long loan to Indy Eleven. The MLS side has a right to recall the left back at any point.
- Fort Lauderdale CF fullbacks Brian Rosales and Sami Guediri trained with Inter Miami’s first team on Thursday.
- Inter Miami homegrown player Edison Azcona practiced with the Herons’ first team too after spending last week training with Fort Lauderdale CF.