After playing for Argentina and U.S. youth teams, Cremaschi seeks Inter Miami breakthrough
March 22, 2023
EARLIER THIS MONTH, Inter Miami midfielder Benja Cremaschi celebrated his 18th birthday, and the milestone came at a time when so much in his life has been changing. He recently elected to sign a homegrown deal with Inter Miami despite having options elsewhere. Internationally, he spent time with the U-20 national teams of both Argentina and the United States. Now early in the MLS season, he is breaking into Inter Miami’s first team ahead of schedule.
As a youth player in his native Miami area, he developed into one of the top American players of the 2005 birth year. He was a standout with Key Biscayne SC and Weston Academy before joining Inter Miami where he led the club’s U-17 team to win the Generation Adidas Cup and was named to the MLS NEXT All-Star team. Then in 2022, he also started impressing for Inter Miami II in MLS Next Pro.
This was all in the backdrop of him excelling for U.S. youth national teams. As Cremaschi’s stock was starting to take off, his first big decision came in November when he opted to begin his professional career with Inter Miami.
“I had opportunities to go elsewhere but nothing convinced me,” Cremaschi told ASN. “I didn't want to leave my city. It's honesty an honor being able to represent Inter Miami, MLS, and everything. It's been great joining the club, passing through the academy, and having these experiences… It's just something that as a kid I hoped for and it finally came.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Cremaschi who is still adjusting to the new demands of being a first-team professional under Phil Neville. To start the 2023 season, he has appeared in two of the club’s first four games as a substitute.
“The transition coming from the academy, passing through the second team and now being with the first team, has honestly been super smooth,” Cremaschi told ASN. “Phil has been great throughout the whole transition. He's a coach that really pushes you. He'll be on you because he really wants you to improve and believes in you. It's just great how the club works collectively to help these young players make that transition.”
For Cremaschi, there could be a need for his role at Inter Miami to expand quickly. In a 1-0 away loss to New York City on March 11, team captain and defensive midfielder Gregore suffered a foot injury that is expected to keep him out for six months.
The loss was significant to Inter Miami, but it also meant that other players – particularly central midfielders like Cremaschi – will have to fill the void.
“It's very sad to see not only a teammate, but a leader, a captain, someone who united everyone… fall down on the pitch - knowing that he's out for so long. It's obviously an opportunity that every single one of us is prepared to take. It's going to be an opportunity for me and for a couple of other players to maybe get some minutes and help the team.”
Off the field, things are also different for Cremaschi as he steps into a bigger spotlight in Miami’s sports landscape. On Tuesday night, he attended the World Baseball Classic final in Miami’s LoanDepot Park in a box that was shared by the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Heat. There he spoke with two of his idols growing up in Udonis Haslem and Dwayne Wade.
“When I was a kid, I would look up to them and watch their games,” Cremaschi pointed out. “Just being able to share an event with them, is honestly amazing and something that that I never believe would happen.”
But there is also an important role for him off the field with Inter Miami. Like many MLS clubs, Inter Miami is aggressively trying to develop homegrown first-team players from within their youth teams.
Cremaschi’s reputation is strong among the club’s young players. Already, Cremaschi is planning on working with younger Inter Miami players to serve as a role model and mentor as they push towards the professional ranks.
“It's great to talk to them and share my experiences,” Cremaschi said of his relationship with the academy. “I don't have much experience yet as a professional, but I know a couple of things that they probably don't know. That's where I came from and it's lovely to help younger kids achieve their goal… When I was an academy player, it meant a lot if someone from the first team went to watch a game. It just pushed me a little bit more. It would be amazing to be a role model to these kids.”
But the most significant indication of Cremaschi’s talent has come at the international level. After impressing with the U.S. U-19 team, Cremaschi made his U.S. U-20 debut in October as part of a camp that was run in conjunction with senior national team ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Then in December, Cremaschi was called up to Argentina’s U-20 team for a camp in Buenos Aires. He was subsequently named to Argentina’s preliminary 28-player roster for the CONMEBOL U-20 Championships (which also serve as the federation’s U-20 World Cup qualifying) but did not make the final 21-player roster.
This was significant because as a 2005-birth year, he was playing up an entire cycle at the U-20 level for both nations – including being the youngest player on Argentina’s preliminary U-20 roster.
“They're both honestly amazing experiences,” Cremaschi explained. “It's an honor being called up by these two countries who are two countries that I feel very attached to. I am very fortunate having these opportunities that not many people have.”
Cremaschi never lived in Argentina, but both his parents are from the country. Growing up in Miami, he was immersed at home in Argentine culture and Spanish is his first language. As a kid, he would go back to Argentina twice a year to see his family in the city of Mendoza.
This past December he was in Argentina visiting his family and playing for the country’s U-20 team. While he was there, Argentina won the World Cup and he was able to witness the celebrations of the country.
“I was in my hometown of Mendoza when Argentina won the World Cup,” Cremaschi said. “It was incredible, honestly, just seeing all the other fans come out after the game and just celebrating… I would also like to compliment the U.S. for their performances and just see how well they did with such a young team and just a couple of veterans like DeAndre [Yedlin]. It was just a very nice World Cup to watch for both nations.”
It remains to be seen which country Cremaschi will represent. Both Argentina and the United States remain interested at the U-20 level, but the United States has the advantage this cycle as Argentina’s U-20 team failed to qualify for the 2023 U-20 World Cup while the U.S. team qualified for both the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.
Should Cremaschi play in an official youth game for either country, he would not be permanently cap-tied but could only switch by filing a one-time change of association with FIFA.
“He is a 2005 and I've let him know that in the next cycle, he's a very, very important player for our U-20's,” U.S. U-20 head coach Mikey Varas told ASN. “For this cycle, he still has an opportunity to play his way in. That'll depend on these next few months. A lot can change with players in terms of playing time at a first team level and how they adapt to that.”
“We can't forget that we invited Benja into a U-20 camp already,” he added. “We invited him in before Argentina did, and that was a camp that we did side by side with the men's national team. I think Benja is pretty clear on how we value him and how we see him for our future.”
For Cremaschi, he is electing to take his time as there is no pressing need to decide right away. He is still in regular contact with both federations but it is clear for him to even have future call-ups, let alone a decision to make, it will all start with success at inter Miami. Logically, that is where priority lies.
“I'm in contact with both nations,” Cremaschi said. “It's a goal to play in the U-20 World Cup... But I want to take it step by step and day by day and just focus on trying to get some minutes with the first team and just trying to improve every single day to be able to have the opportunity to play in the World Cup. I'm still in contact with both countries, but right now, I'm just taking it step by step.”