Inter Miami has quite the lineup dilemma right now. Calling it that might even be an understatement.
The expansion side is set to visit the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, on Wednesday night, but will do so without five regular starters. Rodolfo Pizarro, Luis Robles, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Juan Agudelo, and Andres Reyes are all unavailable for the match due to varying reasons, leaving head coach Diego Alonso with plenty to mull over as he tries to piece together this jigsaw puzzle.
“It’s a great opportunity to see the players that are behind the starters so that they can show their worth,” said Alonso in Spanish on Tuesday afternoon, “and so they can help the team and show they are capable of being there and can help when necessary.”
Alonso’s biggest lineup headache is probably on the defensive line, where the absences of Gonzalez Pirez (yellow card accumulation) and Reyes (facial injury) have left Inter Miami very thin at centerback. Nicolas Figal is sure to start in one of at least two spots in the heart of the defense, but just who gets paired with Figal is unclear.
Venezuelan youngster Christian Makoun — who is on loan at USL side Fort Lauderdale CF with a right to recall at any time — might be the most natural fit given he has played some centerback during the early stages of his career. Left back Ben Sweat and Swiss army knife veteran A.J. DeLaGarza could also be options to fill in in the middle, however.
“It’s on us as players to make plays,” said DeLaGarza, who made his Inter Miami debut this past weekend at right back. “Getting cleansheets, we definitely have not done enough of that this year. I think that’s where we need to start at and that’s being a collective group defensively and really buckling down and trying to help our ‘keeper.”
Inter Miami will be turning to a new goalkeeper on Wednesday and for the next few games of the season. Robles is set for a spell on the sidelines after suffering a left arm fracture late in last Saturday’s 3-2 loss to New York City FC, though an exact timetable for his recovery has not been given.
John McCarthy has been the preferred netminder option for the bench this season, meaning he will probably get the nod ahead of young prospect Drake Callender.
“It is without a doubt a huge opportunity,” said Alonso. “Unfortunately it comes because of an injury to a teammate, but John and Drake have both been working very well and growing throughout this time, and it’s the moment to seize this opportunity and demonstrate the quality they have.”
Robles’ absence also means a new captain will lead Inter Miami for the first time this season in Wednesday’s tilt vs. the Red Bulls. Alonso said Tuesday that he has already named that player internally, but that he would not publicly reveal who it was just yet.
Alonso also has to figure out how to fill the two attacking positions that have been left vacant by Pizarro, who is on international duty with Mexico, and the injured Agudelo. A formation change could be in the cards just as it was vs. NYCFC and there are several players that could help depending on the look, including Brek Shea, Matias Pellegrini, Wil Trapp, and Jay Chapman.
Regardless of which players get chosen, this overall lineup shuffle comes at a pivotal moment in the season. Inter Miami is trying to make a playoff push, but now has to do so on Wednesday night without a chunk of its squad.
“The word isn’t frustration. What we feel is regret not being able to have the complete roster together because we were starting to see some really good things,” said Alonso. “I’ll repeat that I think we did some very good things in the last game and in the one before that, too. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to have everyone together.”