A limited number of fans and media members finally got a chance on Sunday to see what the revamped Inter Miami looks like under new coach Phil Neville, as the team held an intra-squad scrimmage at the recently named DRV PNK Stadium.
It was the team’s last test before its season opener Apr. 18 at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy (3 p.m., ABC), 13 months after their initial matchup was canceled due to the pandemic.
Among the takeaways from the hot, steamy afternoon game: Robbie Robinson shifted from center forward to left wing and figures to feature prominently in Neville’s plans. The offense will go through Rodolfo Pizarro more than it did last season. New signees Kelvin Leerdam, Joevin Jones and Gregore will contribute right away.
The lineup for the white team, presumably the projected starters, included goalkeeper John McCarthy; defenders Leerdam, Nico Figal, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jones; holding midfielders Gregore and Blaise Matuidi; right wing Lewis Morgan, center mid Rodolfo Pizarro, left wing Robbie Robinson; and Gonzalo Higuain up top at center forward.
Robinson, Pizarro and Leerdam scored for the white team. Higuain had a nice assist. Edison Azcona of Deerfield Beach, a 17-year-old graduate of the club’s Academy who has impressed first-team coaches and teammates, scored the lone goal for the black team after stealing the ball from Figal in the penalty area.
“Robbie’s had a fantastic preseason,” Neville said. “One thing I identified really early is we need more goals, so what Robbie provides us is a real attacking threat down that left hand side. The combinations of Rodolfo dropping in sometimes and Robbie going higher and Gonzalo sometimes dropping in, we have really good combinations with Lewis playing a little wider on that right hand side.”
Robinson had played mainly as a center forward throughout his career, but Neville said shifting left will give him more freedom and more time on the ball. “I’m super pleased with both Robbie and Rodolfo, who is a big game player and as we’re getting closer to the games, I see him dialing it up a little bit.”
Robinson, the No. 1 MLS draft pick last year, said he is adjusting and “enjoying every minute” of his new role even though it means a lot more running to drop back and defend.
Neville also sees great promise in Azcona, who is 5-6 and 130 pounds, but fearless. He plays for the Dominican Republic national team. “If Eddy keeps working hard and developing, he hopefully has a big future in our club,” Neville said. “He’s got something a little bit special. You see him in the lineup in the tunnel and think, `Boy, he’s small,’ but he’s tough, strong and aggressive. The kid’s got a real chance.”
The other teenager out there was Neville’s 18-year-old son, Harvey, who played for the black team. He plays for Manchester United’s U23 team and got permission to visit his father and train with Inter Miami for 10 days.
Two players missing on Sunday were Brek Shea, who is nursing an undisclosed injury, and Julian Carranza, who felt a tweak during warmups and didn’t want to risk it. Defender Dylan Nealis was traded to Nashville SC on Saturday.
“(Sunday) was more about the physical side than what I saw from a technical point of view,” Neville said. “I wanted them to get 90 minutes under the belt. It’s no secret that we’ve had pretty bad luck with games being canceled, so I wanted to get 90 minutes in their legs. I don’t want us to get in the game next week and be short physically.”
Neville said despite the lack of preseason matches, he feels the team is ready for its season opener.
“Ultimately, we’ll find out next Sunday how ready physically we are,” he said. “The situation’s been out of our hands, we’ve tried to be positive about it, and it’s not an excuse. We are ready to play LA Galaxy, and physically fit enough to play them.”
The club canceled four preseason matches in the past few weeks, which means Inter Miami will enter its season opener without a single preseason test against an MLS opponent.
Its only preparation matches were against the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Miami FC, both USL clubs. Scheduled games in Bradenton against the Charleston Batter (USL), and MLS opponents New York Red Bulls and Nashville SC were called off due to COVID-19 concerns. Sunday’s scheduled game was called off due to schedule conflicts with Toronto FC.
A (limited capacity) sellout crowd of 8,000 fans is expected for the game against the Galaxy.