A home opener against LA Galaxy. Great anticipation for a new season with promise, potential, and so many unknowns. It’s the launch of the 2021 Inter Miami CF capmaign in Major League Soccer, but it offers a sense of deja vu: We were in this place exactly one year and six weeks ago, when Inter Miami lost at DC United, headed home for its inaugural home match, and then the world stopped.
Inter Miami never did host LA Galaxy in its 2020 season, or play the Galaxy at all. COVID restrictions and a regionalized schedule update forced a lot of changes on a club that still has no true sense of normalcy.
But today’s match will really give the club a chance to change that for the first time.
Under the direction of former Manchester United star and England women’s national team gaffer Phil Neville (replacing the departed Diego Alonso), the team still has many unknowns. More than half of the starting XI that took the pitch for the club’s first game in 2020 are gone now. Former goalkeeper and captain Luis Robles retired; Wil Trapp signed with Minnesota as a free agent; Ben Sweat was traded to expansion side Austin FC; Roman Torres was traded back to Seattle Sounders; Alvas Powell had his team option declined and signed with a Sudanese side. And then there’s Matías Pellegrini.
Inter Miami’s DP Saga
Pellegrini, brought in to Inter Miami as a high-profile young prospect from Estudiantes in Argentina, played in 16 games last season. But with the acquisition of Blaise Matuidi in, the club inaccurately reported it as Targeted Allocation Money, when it should have been a Designated Player transaction. That meant (after the acquisition of Gonzalo Higuain later in the season) the club had four DPs, and was only allowed three. Pellegrini was the odd-man out, bought out of his contract and sent to Fort Lauderdale FC. He will likely depart South Florida when transfer windows open around the world.
LA Galaxy is also hoping to emerge from a period of instability, but one that is uncharacteristic for the club. After the dismissal of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, former Toronto FC manager Greg Vanney (winner of the MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship in 2017) took the reins in Carson. The addition of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández didn’t provide the spark the club hoped after the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2019, but with the signing of Kévin Cabral from France, it hopes to return to the top half of the Western Conference in 2021.
With the addition of fans (at a limited capacity) and a proper spring kickoff, perhaps 2021 will feel like a second first season for the Herons. With so much change, though, it’s quite hard to predict how this 2021 MLS campaign will shake out.