OnSide, Inter Miami’s own weekly news show hosted by Kaylyn Kyle and Andres Cordero, returned this week to discuss the announcement of the MLS is Back Tournament. The hosts were joined by Director of Soccer Operations Niki Budalic who broke down some of the specifics of what the tournament will entail, as well as what the team is feeling ahead of the return to action.
“It’s buzzing. It’s exciting. We’re just happy to be back,” said Budalic. “We can finally put into practice everything that we’ve been working on, the guys getting to know each other, finally everybody is together, guys are living in their homes for the first time, so they feel like this is going to be our first step despite the fact that we’ve had two games.”
“The guys are focused on winning. I think it’s really important for them to get off on the right foot,” he added. “The guys are very focused on ourselves; we’re focused on establishing the way we want to play. We’ve been spending a lot of time since we’ve been back in full training working on patterns of play and our tactics and making sure we understand how we want to build this team to win.”
Budalic didn’t shy away when asked what the Club’s ambitions are entering the group stage of the tournament, stating the intent to advance to the knockout rounds.
“I think clearly the expectations are going to be to win. On the one hand, these [group stage] matches count towards our regular season so it’s extremely important we collect points, but on top of that you’ve got the added incentive of qualifying for the knockout phase and having the opportunity to go to the [Concacaf] Champions League which for this Club and for our ownership is extremely important. We’re ambitious, we definitely have our sights set on that spot.”
“It would definitely accomplish one of our long-term goals. To win Champions League, the first step is to get there. For our Club, for our ambition, for our ownership, for staff and players, the type of Club we want to be, we want to be challenging for trophies. Establishing ourselves in [Champions League] is one of our long-term goals and the sooner we can get there and the more experience we can gain the better.”
Inter Miami drew Orlando City SC, the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire FC as opponents in the group stage, setting the table for intriguing matchups in the team’s return to competitive play.
“I don’t think there are any easy games in MLS, they all offer their different challenges. I think with Orlando it’s going to be a very emotional match,” he said. “It will be our first match back, their first match back, the first match of the tournament, I think it will be very emotional.”
“With Philadelphia, we played them in preseason so we kind of know them. They’re a physical team, I think they’re going to be very competitive and well organized. And with Chicago being a new team, relatively speaking, with a new coach and a lot of turnover in their roster, I don’t know if we quite know what they are. There’s a lot of uncertainty there, but definitely a lot of opportunity.”
The players returned to full team training last week with an eye on the tournament, but according to Budalic they were already in peak shape thanks to the work they did in individual sessions.
“I think we saw through our GPS data and feedback that in the individual trainings they pushed themselves beyond even what their individual fitness was in preseason in January.”
Budalic also provided an update on when the team will be departing for Orlando, stating that they will likely remain in South Florida until about July 1.
“That is just to keep the guys in their comfort zone. We have a really nice facility here, we’re settled here, and I think the longer we can be here we will [stay] here.”