For supporters, that may be good thing. The current method clearly isn’t working.
Saturday night’s 3-0 home loss to D.C. United was only one result, but it encapsulated everything that appears sideways during the club’s first season-and-a-quarter in MLS.
In the first home game played before a stadium open to full capacity in its history, a lineup including a former World Cup winner and former UEFA Champions League winner appeared either unwilling or incapable of keeping pace with a visitor whose payroll was less than 58% of their own.
D.C. had four times as many clearances and blocked shots in the affair, a clear sign of who was working harder defensively when the quantity of possession and chances was relatively even, and the quality of both tilted in United’s direction.
With Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi and Rodolfo Pizarro already in the fold, and a who’s who of aging international stars perpetually linked with the club in transfer chatter, there is clear intent to make Miami one of the league’s glamour sides.
It’s less clear whether the club has an understanding or even interest in the characteristics of successful MLS teams over the years. Which is how Miami got into this situation in the first place.
After an investigation that began in August of last year, MLS found that Miami had used two players that should’ve been ineligible due to the league’s salary structure during the 2020 season. In response, the league fined the club $2 million and reduced it’s allotment of allocation money by more than $2 million for the next two seasons. According to The Athletic, that’s roughly a quarter of allocation funds Miami would expect to receive during those two years.
So how is this good news? Well, the obvious way forward given those sanctions is to improve at developing players from within its own academy and at signing cheaper domestic talent with MLS experience. And by necessity, a front office that has blatantly tried to pay more than what is allowed to fill its roster is going to be required to get better at doing more with less.
All of these characteristics have been traits of the great MLS dynasties Miami aspires to be. Even in Beckham’s MLS playing days with the LA Galaxy, it took a core of American role players — particularly on defense — to make the difference between the frustration of his early years in LA and his last two as an MLS Cup Champion.
To be fair, not everything about Miami suggests a club that wants to skip over all the hard work of constructing a champion. The club has already signed three academy players to first-team deals. And it is operating a USL club as a reserve side to develop talent not quite ready at the MLS level.
But the chunk of the roster that has significant MLS experience is small, Americans or otherwise.
If Miami wants more allocation money, that’s likely to change. Clubs are allotted eight international roster spots each season, but they can use those as transfer commodities. This season, the going rate for an MLS roster spot is around $225,000 in allocation money. So if Miami give up four or five of those spots, they could potentially recoup half of the allocation money they lose in each of the next two seasons.
Of course, doing so requires having more players who don’t count toward an international roster spot. There’s three ways to accomplish that: Sign more American players, focus on getting green cards for more players who are currently internationals, or both. Whatever the choice, it results in more players with MLS experience, since green cards are typically granted to players with a longer residency history.
If Miami go that direction in the next two years, they can still splash on high-profile Designated Player signings and support them with a roster of similar calibre to most others in the league. And they’ll do it while acquiring more of the MLS grit and guile they might currently be lacking
The road ahead might look bleak. But belt tightening can be an exercise in building strength. Given what occurred Saturday night, it’s pretty clear that is needed.