Inter Miami has yet to debut its new pink jersey, but the team gave fans a first peek at its new-look roster in a 4-0 preseason friendly win Wednesday night against Universitarios, one of Peru’s top teams.
A lively crowd of 6,736 showed up at DRV PNK on a rainy night and saw several young players debut for Inter Miami, including coach Phil Neville’s 19-year-old son, Harvey, and co-owner David Beckham’s 19-year-old son Romeo.
Both played for the club’s Fort Lauderdale USL team last season. Neither is on the Inter Miami roster for 2022, but the younger Neville made a good case for being added.
Neville, who previously played for Manchester United’s youth teams, is an attacking fullback and scored Miami’s third goal early in the second half. He attacked his mark and launched a shot (or maybe it was meant to be a cross) into the far-right corner of the net. He fell to the ground to celebrate and was engulfed by teammates while his smiling proud father raised his arms in the air.
On his son’s goal and what it was like to coach his son for the first time, Phil Neville said, “Honestly, I missed the goal, I was talking to the fourth official. Somebody said it was a decent goal.
‘‘He’s doing well, he’s working hard,’’ he continued. “He’s waiting for green card status to become a U.S. citizen. It’s a long process. But like all the young players he’s going to get opportunities in the preseason. Do I like coaching him? Sometimes yes, other times no. It’s something we have to get used to, particularly finding the balance between being a dad and being his coach.”
Then he joked: “The only proud thing is I think he did a stepover, so at least I taught him something.”
Three of Miami’s goals were scored by teenagers.
Miami’s second goal was also scored by a young newcomer, 19-year-old defender Ian Fray of Coconut Creek. The Jamaican-American teen, whose father Michael played for Jamaica’s youth national team, was signed before the 2021 season but suffered a torn ACL in preseason and missed the entire season after knee surgery.
Now fully recovered Fray is making an impact this preseason. He scored the lone goal for Miami in a closed-door scrimmage against the Columbus Crew last weekend and displayed his skills again on Wednesday night. Fray dribbled up from the back and calmly slotted in a shot to give Miami a 2-0 lead.
“We’re going to be really patient with Ian,” Neville said. “We have high hopes for the kid. He’s got the tools you want as a defender, the reading, the composure and speed, but he has had a big injury and this is his first taste of MLS football, so we have to be patient.”
Second-half substitute Ethan Hardin, an 18-year-old from the USL team, scored Miami’s fourth goal.
“We wanted to expose our new players to what Inter Miami is all about,’’ Phil Neville said. ‘‘Nothing recreates that buzz and atmosphere than when you get in a stadium and get the brilliant supporters from Peru. I was here a couple of weeks ago for the Colombia-Honduras game and there was incredible support, you just look at the area around here with Peruvians, Colombians, Latinos. We need to get all those supporters into Inter Miami. Hopefully they enjoyed the game and it was great to see our supporters, as well.
It also gave our younger players and new players exposure to each other in pressure situations.”
Miami’s first goal came in the 18th minute on an own goal by Universitarios’ Nelson Cabanillas after Miami’s Brek Shea sent in a cross. Cabinallas tried to clear it and it rolled into the goal.
Both teams were missing key players. Universitarios was without three players on national team duty and nine others due to COVID and injury. The Peruvian club traveled with only 16 players, and coach Gregorio Perez lamented that he made only four changes after halftime while Inter Miami made nine substitutions.
Peppered with questions about the lopsided result from Peruvian reporters on Zoom, Perez urged fans of “La U” to have patience and not to worry. He stressed that his roster was depleted, and that some of his young players were traveling internationally for the first time so it was a good experience.
“This was just a preseason match, we were missing 12 players, and I choose to take the positives from it,” he said. “Not to make excuses, but Miami was able to make nine subs and that made a big difference.”
Miami also had missing players. Jamaican defender Damion Lowe and Bolivian defender Jairo Quinteros were with their national teams.
Injured Miami players who missed the friendly were starting goalkeeper Nick Marsman (recovering from knee surgery), captain Gregore (recovering from hernia surgery), defender Kieran Gibbs (back), and newcomers Leonardo Campana (calf), Emerson Rodriguez (hamstring), and Bryce Duke (quad).
Miami’s starting lineup Wednesday was Clement Diop, Neville, Fray, Aime Mabika, Chris McVey, Shea, Victor Ulloa, Jean Mota, Ariel Lassiter, Robbie Robinson, and Gonzalo Higuain
Only five players in that lineup started a game last season: Higuain, Robinson, Shea, Ulloa, and Mabika, who was promoted from Fort Lauderdale for two Inter Miami games late last season.
Higuain looked in good form and made a few nice passes but played only one half. Robinson also appeared in peak fitness after struggling last season with hamstring issues.
Neville kept just two starters in for the second half, his son and Ulloa. Drake Callender came in at goalkeeper and Mo Adams, George Acosta and Edison Azcona entered in midfield. The other replacements came from the club’s USL team, among them Beckham, Hardin, Abel Caputo, Modesto Mendez, and Shaan Hundal.
“Monday morning we met and said, `We’ve got a s---load of work to do, and this result doesn’t change that,” Neville said. “We’ve got a hell of a lot of coaching to do, but winning breeds confidence and that’s important because we haven’t won enough games at this club the past two years. The attitudes were great. What we invested in on the roster was speed, hungry, aggressive players who are going to be on the front foot and press and want to score goals. We saw glimpses of that tonight.”
Neville added that all the young players have injected the team with spirit.
“Young people give you energy,” he said. “I was 45 last Friday and I feel old. I come into work some mornings and when I leave I feel so energized because these guys you can’t get them off the training field, out of the video room, out of the pool or gym and that’s the culture we want. There’s going to be peaks and troughs with young players, but wow, they want to work hard. When I see Victor, Brek and Gonzalo are feeding off the energy and spark and fearlessness of these kids.”
Inter Miami’s next preseason game is Saturday behind closed doors against D.C. United. The regular season kicks off Feb. 26 at home against Chicago Fire.