As a new decade dawned David Beckham’s Inter Miami finally appointed its head coach, appointing well-traveled Uruguayan Diego Alonso to lead the team in its inaugural season.
Beyond brand Beckham and the big-name city, which together have the potential to attract some of the biggest names in world soccer, the club ultimately needs someone who can blend the cultural aspects of this project with its requirements on the soccer field, which is why they turned to the 44-year-old Montevidean.
A thorough search for a first head coach attracted applicants from around the world. Soccer figures of global renown were linked with the vacant post in south Florida, including at various points Carlo Ancelotti, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, but it soon becomes evident why the 2020 Major League Soccer expansion team went for someone closer to home.
Soccer on a global level might not yet be familiar with Alonso, but followers of the game in the Concacaf region already know his pedigree. MLS sides FC Dallas, Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City have already suffered defeat at the hands of an Alonso side. It was only last year that his Monterrey team dumped Atlanta and Sporting KC out of the Concacaf Champions League, defeating the latter 10-2 on aggregate in the semis.
The Uruguayan’s performance against Atlanta in the quarter-finals was keenly observed by that club’s former vice president of soccer operations, now Inter Miami’s sporting director, Paul McDonough. McDonough’s work building a club from scratch in Orlando and Atlanta helped him secure a similar role in Miami, and the Atlanta team which won the 2018 MLS Cup was very much of his making.
Alonso’s Monterrey saw off Atlanta 3-1 on aggregate, with a 3-0 home win enough for them to progress despite a 1-0 defeat in Georgia. McDonough was sufficiently impressed to hire him for his latest project.
“He’s competed against MLS teams in the Concacaf Champions League, and I paid close attention when his team was beating Atlanta United,” McDonough told the Miami Herald. “All the MLS teams aspire to win that, and we just signed a guy who has won it twice with two different clubs.”
Alonso is the only coach to have achieved this feat, and perhaps more attractive for Inter Miami is that he did so recently, lifting the trophy with Pachuca in 2017 before repeating with Monterrey in 2019. He is Concacaf’s head coaching hot property, but before they set their sights on the continent, Inter Miami need to establish themselves in MLS.
Building an MLS roster is as much about forging an identity for fans to get behind as it is collecting a group of good players, and this is especially important in a city such as Miami.
Alonso’s profile and career to date suggest he will be perfect in facilitating this. McDonough has made it clear that the new coach won’t have much of a say in the recruitment of playing staff, but he will be required to lead this newly assembled group of players and make sure the whole thing gels on the field. The passion Alonso displays on the touchline shows he goes all-in on any project he is involved with, and those players will recognize and be inspired by this.
“The idea of winning right away is the thing that I liked the most, the thing that convinced me the most,” Alonso told the Associated Press. “I don’t see it as a challenge. I see it as an opportunity.
“It’s an ambitious and a winning project. That’s what I’m all about.”
Miami could be described as a Latin American city within American borders. Spanish is spoken by the majority of its inhabitants and that there are neighborhoods known as Little Havana, Little Haiti, and Little Venezuela isn’t a quirky accident.
Alonso, who spent the majority of his playing days between South America and Spain, and has coached throughout South America and Mexico, is already part of this culture.
As the club acquires talented players from Central and South America – it already has players on its roster from Haiti, Argentina, Mexico, Guam, Venezuela, Jamaica, and Panama – Alonso will be important in knitting it all together and helping the players settle in their new environment. A supposed bigger-name head coach with a solely European background wouldn’t have cut it, especially as the club takes its first steps.
After embarking on a coaching career in Uruguay and Paraguay, Alonso rose to Concacaf prominence in Liga MX. League placings ranged from 13th with Pachuca in the 2015 Apertura, to two second-place finishes in 2016, but in Mexico, as is the case in MLS, the postseason carries more weight than the regular season. The year Pachuca won the Clausura to qualify for the 2016/17 Champions League, they had finished seven points behind Monterrey, but managed to defeat the league leader in the playoff final.
Alonso likes to play the modern, staggered midfield with a holding player, a box-to-box player, and an attacking midfielder. This can mean his sides look like they are lined up as 4-3-3 one minute, but 4-2-3-1 the next.
There is some flexibility when it comes to shape and style, and he has been known to use variations of 4-4-2 as well as three at the back, mixing possession with pragmatism. The altitude at which many games are played in Mexico (especially in Pachuca) can discourage an intense pressing game, but this could become a more prominent part of the plan now his team will be playing most of its games at sea level beside the Florida Straits.
In Miami he will be required to play attractive, attacking soccer, and it’s here his preferred style of play should really become evident. Starting from scratch, he will be able to fulfill his own vision of how soccer should be played, as well as that of McDonough and the club.
Alonso will also be required to ease young South Floridians from Inter’s academy to the first-team environment, providing a local identity for this global team. During his time south of the border his tutelage of young Mexicans such as Érick Gutiérrez, Rodolfo Pizarro, Víctor Guzmán, and the latest star of the El Tri show, Hirving Lozano, is testament to his work in this area of the game, one which is increasingly important for MLS clubs.
As its full name suggests, for Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami there are no borders. For a project which is looking to the Americas rather than merely America, Alonso appears to be the perfect hire in theory. In practice, the hard work needed on the field to install a successful expansion side in MLS can now begin.