EDITORIAL – It may have been nearly 3,000 miles from the Magic City, but for the first time in 19 years, a team from Miami returned to MLS action Sunday afternoon when new franchise Club Internacional Fútbol de Miami- better known as Inter Miami- took the field against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium. Finally the Inter Miami story wasn’t about preparation, signings, or a stadium. It was about the futbol.
The Inter Miami Story is Finally About the Futbol
LAFC won, 1-0, in front of a tremendous crowd of 22,121, but for Inter Miami, the result on this cool Los Angeles Sunday was hardly the point.
Instead, what mattered was simply that they played an actual match.
After six years of press and PR events, unfounded rumors of star signings, spoiled stadium plans, a seemingly endless flood of litigation and political roadblocks, Jorge Mas and David Beckham could, at least for one afternoon, stop taking questions and take in a game of football.
What sweet relief for Inter Miami’s owners and the 400-plus supporters who made the trek from South Florida to the City of Angels to see a bit of history.
On the field, the euphoria didn’t last long.
LAFC threatened almost immediately, with Diego Rossi forcing a huge save from veteran goalkeeper Luis Robles in just the 5th minute after a dangerous looping ball from Carlos Vela. Minutes later, Mark Anthony-Kaye appeared to give the hosts the lead but his late-running effort was deemed offside.
From there, the game settled, with most of the action played in the Herons final third, with Inter Miami struggling to get a grip on any meaningful possession.
Playing essentially a 4-5-1, with Rodolfo Pizarro only occasionally looking for chances to come up and support a hard-running, but mostly helpless, Robbie Robinson up top, the Herons couldn’t maintain much possession against the Supporters Shield winners, with LAFC winning the bulk of the second balls as well.
Instead, Inter Miami seemed mostly content to ping long balls over the top towards Robinson, who showed flashes of pace and power but could rarely latch onto anything.
Inter Miami did manage to come into the game towards the end of the first half, earning four shots on goal, so the club wasn’t entirely listless. Earning the distinction of the first Miami shot on a MLS goal in nearly two decades? Winger Lewis Morgan, who the club acquired from Celtic this winter.
The club’s biggest signing, the Mexican international DP Rodolfo Pizarro, had a great first half chance too, only to be denied by a lunging Kenneth Vermeer in the 42nd minute, nearly giving Inter Miami the lead.
On the bright side, Inter Miami looked stout defensively against a great attacking team, confirming, at least on day one, a suspected club strength.
Shielded by Wil Trapp, the center back pairing of Nicolás Figal and Román Torres looked especially strong, swallowing up LAFC’s Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing early. That strength prompted the game’s first subtle tactical change, which saw Bob Bradley tuck Carlos Vela inside when LAFC had sustained possession, switching the typically wide right Vela with Rossi.
The adjustment helped keep the pressure on Inter Miami’s defense, but the shape and organization of the new club was impressive defensively, and really disruptive to LAFC’s ability to play the final ball.
Just before halftime, however, a moment of pure magic broke the Miami defenses and it was, of course, Carlos Vela who made the breakthrough, weaving his way past a lunging Wil Trapp and a pursuing Ben Sweat to chip just over the arms of a lunging Luis Robles. On a day when the league lost its brightest star, Josef Martinez, for the year to a torn ACL, MLS getting a golazo from a star like Vela was sweet medicine.
“Everyone that was here today will be talking about that goal for a long time,” LAFC manager Bob Bradley said of Vela’s strike after the match.
They certainly will.
Still, for Inter Miami, playing their opening game together, it’s an encouraging sign that it took such an exceptional goal for LAFC to solve their defensive puzzle.
“I thought defensively, we played bravely. We’ll need to play better in transition, work on keeping the ball, but it was a good performance on defense and obviously, took an incredible goal to beat us,” Inter Miami midfielder Wil Trapp said after the match.
Pizarro nearly matched his El Tri counterpart in the 53rd minute, brilliantly running from in behind to find space on a corner, only to see his lunging right-legged effort from close range go begging right.
Steeled by their outstanding defense, the Herons ratcheted up the pressure in the second half, with the addition of Lee Nguyen near the 70th minute stabilizing the midfield. Still, the equalizer was tough to find.
First, a great chance for Robbie Robinson in the 73rd minute was deflected wide, with the rookie unable to get a clean foot to it. Then, Kenneth Vermeer got a paw to a dangerous Nguyen free kick near the far post in the 76th minute to prevent a clean look at the goal.
From there, Bradley’s men seemed a bit more content to stay compact, wait for chances on the break and defend in numbers, seeing off the game well. But over 90 minutes in a hostile environment against what last year was the league’s best team, Inter Miami sent a message about what they will be in 2020: a stubborn team committed to organization and shape with a steely spine that will be truly tough to play against.
That’s a formula that works in MLS, and, when help arrives up top in the form of Julian Carranza, one that may help the club grind out crucial points as it seeks to become the first Florida-based MLS team to earn a playoff berth since the Fusion’s final campaign in 2001.
There aren’t moral victories in soccer, even playing the Supporters Shield winners on the road in your first game. But it isn’t unfair for Inter Miami to feel encouraged.
“I’m sure no one from Inter Miami came here to play well and lose,” LAFC midfielder Mark Anthony-Kaye offered after the game. “But you play as organized as they do, with strong tackling and nice pieces in transition, and you’ll win some games. No one better take them lightly. I know we didn’t.”
LAFC manager Bob Bradley agreed, and went one step farther, suggesting that having managers like Diego Alonso, who bring a track record of global success and strong football ideas to MLS, is excellent for the league, as are tactical cat and mouse games, such as the one we saw Sunday afternoon.
“Diego Alonso has proven he’s an excellent manager,” Bradley said.
“You saw that today. They didn’t just play very hard. You saw how as we got around the box, they closed spaces very fast, they went to the ground, defended with commitment. I very much appreciate teams in the league that have football ideas and give their teams football identities. It’s great at times when we go out of the country, but there are also very good managers with football ideas from the US. The key is if you go outside the country, bring someone in with ideas who is really good, like Inter Miami did with Diego Alonso.”
In the end, Inter Miami being praised for its effort and football, rather than answering questions about its still uncertain stadium situation or off-field signings, is far more of a story than a 1-0 road loss to a great team.
Miami is back in MLS.
The rest of the story can now be written.