Major League Soccer announced Friday morning that it has begun a formal review of Inter Miami’s signing of midfielder Blaise Matuidi last summer, specifically investigating whether the signing of the player complied with league’s salary budget and roster guidelines.
Inter Miami’s response: “[The club] acknowledges the statement made by Major League Soccer today, and we look forward to fully engaging with the league’s review process. We will have no further comment until the completion of the investigation.”
Matuidi, the French World Cup winner who joined the club last August from Italian power Juventus, was signed on a free transfer and was paid last season using discretionary Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), a mechanism used to reduce the budget charge of players who are in a high salary range but not DPs. Each club can use up to $2.8 million in TAM to fund high-priced players without exceeding the team salary cap, which in 2021 is $4.9 million.
According to league sources, Inter Miami will be re-designating Matuidi to one of three allowable Designated Player (DP) slots, reserved for elite players whose salaries and acquisition costs exceed the league maximum, which this year is $612,500. A player of Matuidi’s stature — four French Ligue 1 titles with Paris Saint-Germain and three Serie A titles with Juventus — fits the profile of a DP.
The club continues its roster makeover heading into its second season.
Scottish winger Lewis Morgan, the team’s most valuable player and biggest surprise last season, is expected to be elevated to a TAM player. He started all 24 games and led the team with five goals and eight assists. Morgan ranked second in Major League Soccer with 65 chances created, behind only league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo of Toronto FC, who had 70.
Last season, the three DPs on Inter Miami’s roster were Mexican midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro, veteran Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain and 20-year-old Argentine midfielder Matias Pellegrini, who was signed at 19 as a “Young Designated Player.” His transfer fee was reportedly around $7 million, but as a Young DP just $150,000 of his salary counted toward the team salary cap.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, starting this season teams will be able to exceed the salary budget to sign up to three players through a new Under-22 initiative. It is unclear if a player like Pellegrini could be reassigned that designation to free up a DP spot for Matuidi or if his salary cap cost would be bought down by TAM.
Inter Miami recently signed veteran center back Ryan Shawcross from Stoke City and Brazilian defensive midfielder Gregore, who will help free up Pizarro and allow Matuidi to play more of a holding midfielder role.
Inter Miami’s new sporting director Chris Henderson said the club is still looking to sign two more players, a left back and another attacker.
He confirmed they have been in talks with West Brom left back Kieran Gibbs, who played 10 years for Arsenal, but he might not be available until the summer transfer window. Another left back the club is said to be considering is Joevin Jones, a Trinidadian free agent who played for the Seattle Sounders. Jones, 29, can play left back or wing, has won trophies with Seattle and has been on the Trinidad and Tobago national team since 2010.
“There’s a lot to build on from last year,” Henderson said. “There’s a core foundation of players. There are factors that played into their struggles last year, but I hope some of those are going away. The additions we need to add, we’re slowly doing that. If we can get all the additions we want, I think we will have a really good core who can win every game. We hope to have the majority of them here by opening day. May be one that comes later.”
Training camp opens on March 8, the team will play five preseason games, and the regular season kicks off April 17.