Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Inter Miami looks to prove compliant with Matuidi as a designated player
Add becoming compliant to Major League Soccer’s roster rules as another task for Inter Miami CF to complete during the preseason.
Chris Henderson, the club’s sporting director and chief soccer officer, revealed on Tuesday afternoon that Blaise Matuidi will be registered as a designated player for Inter Miami’s second season.
The issue Inter Miami face is that they already have three designated players, the most allowed by MLS, on their roster in Gonzalo Higuaín, Matías Pellegrini and Rodolfo Pizarro — meaning there will need to be some kind of roster shakeup by next Friday when the league’s season officially kicks off.
The league’s designated player rules allow teams to acquire up to three players whose compensation and acquisition costs are greater than the maximum salary charge ($612,500 in 2021) while carrying the maximum budget charge.
Matuidi’s roster designation has been scrutinized throughout the offseason as MLS continues its investigation into Inter Miami’s signing of the 33-year-old French midfielder last summer.
Inter Miami stated that they originally signed Matuidi with targeted allocation money, an MLS mechanism that allows clubs to sign players whose annual salary exceeds the maximum budget charge without being classified as a designated player. The league has been formally investigating whether Matuidi’s signing complied with its salary budget and roster guidelines since March 5.
Coach Phil Neville said in early March that he expected the situation to be resolved within a week, but the club hasn’t been given an update on the investigation.
“The timing on Matuidi — it’s with the league at the moment,” Henderson said. “We’re waiting on that. As we get closer to roster compliance, we’re going to have a decision on that. It’s out of our hands.”
One way Inter Miami could become roster compliant is if Pellegrini is allowed to be reclassified into the under-22 player initiative that MLS is starting this season.
The initiative will allow clubs to sign up to three younger players (22 or younger at the end of their first season in the league) with no limits on acquisition fees and at a reduced budget charge.
The Athletic reported that current MLS players are expected to be allowed into the initiative as long as they’re eligible. It isn’t known if Inter Miami could use allocation money to buy down Pellegrini’s deal so he wouldn’t count as a designated player.
Inter Miami have been waiting since at least February to find out what they could do roster-wise regarding Pellegrini.
“We’re still waiting for some decisions at the league level,” Henderson said. “We have four DPs at the moment, so that’s a work in progress. Roster compliance is next week. We’re continuing to work on things to be compliant.”
Henderson also confirmed that Inter Miami’s cancelation of three preseason friendlies last week was due to positive COVID-19 cases on the team and the opposing squads
they would’ve faced.
Inter Miami were previously scheduled to scrimmage the Charleston Battery, New York Red Bulls and Nashville SC last week at IMG Academy in Bradenton before the games were called off.
“There was someone from our staff, a player and there was also some close contacts,” Henderson said when asked how many individuals tested positive on the team. “With the close contacts, you got to treat it the same way to make sure we don’t spread it through the group. We just wanted to make sure we get back here where we’re safe.”
Inter Miami have been training together for nearly six weeks, but have only played one preseason scrimmage so far. They scheduled three friendlies for the upcoming week: two closed-door friendlies against Miami FC on Wednesday and Sunday before wrapping up the preseason schedule versus Toronto FC at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Inter Miami CF Stadium.
“Teams throughout the league are going through the same things we are,” Henderson said. “It’s obviously challenging for us to prepare for a season this way. There will be plenty of teams in the league who are going to be figuring things out and what their team really looks like one, two months into the season. Not ideal from a preparation standpoint, but it gives us time in the training periods with the new coaching staff to work on some of the tactics and the ways Phil wants to play and integrate the players into the team.”
Henderson added that conversations are taking place on whether MLS will alter its COVID-19 protocols like the NBA and MLB to no longer require a quarantine period for fully vaccinated individuals who’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Inter Miami players received their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, meaning players who got their first dose this week could be fully vaccinated by mid-May.
“We need to be very careful as we get through this period,” Henderson said. “There are conversations around high-risk/ close-contacts now. That does help for the quarantine period that was specific before this and the quarantine period after if you’re vaccinated. Those types of things will really help teams and help our team if somebody is exposed and they’ve been vaccinated in making sure they can get on the field to compete.”
Inter Miami have been linked to multiple goalkeepers during the offseason, most recently being tied to Feyenoord goalkeeper Nick Marsman according to Dutch media outlet Voetbal International.
John McCarthy is currently No. 1 on Inter Miami’s goalkeeper depth chart, with Drake Callender and Dylan Castanheira behind McCarthy.
“We’ve been in discussions with some goalkeepers,” Henderson said. “We’re happy with John, Drake and Dylan. The competition is good there. We always talk about wanting to make competition at every position. That’s not only going to make us better in games but in training every day. Goalkeeper is another position where we want to have competition.”