Washington D.C. — Inter Miami didn’t win their franchise opening game at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles last week, but they did make a statement that they were going to stand up and fight against anyone. Inter battled the Supporters Shield winners for 90 minutes in a hard-fought 1-0 loss. That performance left an impression on LAFC, as players and coaches alike praised Miami’s organization, composure and tactical plan following the match.
It took only two minutes for Inter Miami CF to make an even larger impression at Audi Field in Washington D.C.
Pressing high, Inter took advantage of a miserable DC United giveaway in midfield and broke in numbers. Robbie Robinson made a nice run and lobbed a good ball to winger Lewis Morgan, who crossed calmly to an on-running Rodolfo Pizarro. After squandering two golden chances last week in Los Angeles, Pizarro made the most of this one, powering the ball from just in front of the penalty spot past Bill Hamid and giving Inter Miami CF its first goal in club history in the process.
Living up to his Liga MX reputation as a pragmatic manager who will adjust to suit his personnel consistently depending on the opponent, Diego Alonso changed the Herons shape in ways that put a great deal of pressure on DC United. Playing in a 3-4-3 with wingbacks roaming high in possession and pressing high in transition, Inter Miami continually was able to win the ball in midfield and take advantage of a DC United lineup that without the injured Paul Arriola had little in the way of a player who could take advantage and get in behind of Inter Miami’s high pressure.
The ploy worked, with Inter Miami dominating midfield proceedings — and as such the game — throughout the opening 45 minutes.
One minute. 48 seconds.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) March 7, 2020
Inter Miami sees Red
When the Red and Black did penetrate Inter Miami’s midfield, the Herons defense — led by a rejuvenated Román Torres, given second life after being relegated to a supporting role in Seattle — was brilliant again in the opening half for Inter Miami, stifling and frustrating multiple DC United attackers, from Yamil Asad to Ola Kamara to Erik Sorga. Meanwhile, Inter Miami’s other CB, Nicolás Figal, was outstanding again. Wil Trapp looked steady as ever cleaning up most of the messes in front of the back four. As we expected in the preseason, this is proving to be a formidable Inter Miami back four, and they’ve made life easier on captain Luis Robles early on in the club’s inaugural campaign.
A VAR review changed Inter Miami’s fortunes — and the complexion of the match — after the break.
In the 53rd minute, Torres misplayed a looping ball and Julain Gressel won possession. Turning his body violently in an effort to win the ball back, Torres appeared to make contact to the ball with his hand. The handball wasn’t called — and moments later, it appeared as if Inter Miami had secured a 2-0 goal when Lewis Morgan scored off a deflection.
However, a VAR review commenced. After a lengthy review, the goal was wiped away, the handball on Torres called, and Torres was sent off on account of being the final defender.
🗣 The message from @AlonsoDT after the game was clear:
“I’m so proud of my players. Proud to be their coach. We gotta keep pushing and keep fighting. pic.twitter.com/Qe1HQ02ZOZ
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) March 8, 2020
D.C. United takes advantage
It took DC United less than two minutes to take advantage of the extra man.
A charging Edison Flores appeared to lose a 50/50 to Victor Ulloa on the right side of the penalty area. However, the Costa Rican’s sweeping high leg missed the ball and clipped the red and black attacker, who crumbled to the ground. Referee Rubiel Vazquez pointed to the spot and Yamil Asad made no mistake, calmly leveling past Luis Robles.
DC United took the lead less than five minutes later. A Flores blast off the post was cleaned up by center back Frédéric Brillant, who did a great job of being in the right place at the right time.
The Herons showed character, getting forward and earning chances down the stretch. Howeve, repeatedly, the final pass or product went begging. In the 67th minute, Lewis Morgan, who played well and was dangerous all afternoon, declined an opportunity to cross to Juan Agudelo, who was central in space. Instead, Morgan shot himself, only to see his shot slide harmlessly past to the right of Hamid’s post.
From there, Inter Miami continued to pour on the pressure, often looking as if they were the team playing with a man advantage. In the 79th minute, Agudelo took a ball from Pizarro and appeared to turn his defender at the edge of the area. However, no call was made as he fell to the ground, impeded by Joseph Mora from accessing the ball. In the 88th minute, a scorching Pizarro run down the left earned a free kick, but it was harmlessly parried away by the DC United defense. Ditto a corner in the 89th minute, which was won easily by DC and cleared away. No matter how many bodies Inter Miami seemed to hurl forward, a deep-lying DC United had an answer.
Inter can’t secure a comeback
Meanwhile, when DC United did have chances to break with numbers, the Inter Miami defense was again up to the task. Figal continued to lock up any number of DC United attackers, from Asad to substitute Chris Odoi-Atsem. New signing Andrés Reyes also looked sharp for the Herons, making two terrific one-on-one defending plays against the Estonian Sorga, making his MLS debut for the red and black.
However, after a pair of late corners came up just short, DC United held on to win 2-1. For the second consecutive week, all Inter Miami is left to talk about is a by and large solid defensive performance and shape and some encouraging moments. The club finishes its opening road trip with bright spots, but zero points.
Inter Miami clearly miss a forward who threatens and stresses defenses. The injury to Robinson only complicates that preexisting, post-Carranza problem. Furthermore, the club seems to have few creative answers up top beyond Pizarro, with much-ballyhooed signing Matias Pellegrini still adjusting to the league and Lewis Morgan’s pace from width lacking a receiving forward centrally. Alonso’s reluctance, at least two weeks into the season, to use longtime MLS playmaker Lee Nguyen is also curious.
We’ve always got each other.
🔜 03.14: The Homecoming pic.twitter.com/ENyrZvDB8p
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) March 8, 2020
What’s next for Inter Miami?
It doesn’t get any easier for Inter Miami next week, as they’ll take on a LA Galaxy side expected to compete for MLS Cup. At least, with the stadium built, the Herons will get the Galaxy in Fort Lauderdale, with the club finally ready to play their long-anticipated home opener, somewhat ironically on the same piece of land where MLS last graced South Florida in 2001.
A little history was made in the second minute Saturday. More will be made when MLS returns to South Florida next weekend.
A celebratory mood will surely follow — as almost no one throws a party like Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Will the club’s first result, and with it, a little more history, follow?