Union onto knockout stage as frustrations mount for Inter Miami

Inter Miami loss
Photo of Inter Miami courtesy of Devin L'Amoreaux and Matthew Stith/Major League Socccer.

Orlando, Florida — The Philadelphia Union punched their ticket to the knockout rounds of the MLS Is Back Tournament late Tuesday night with a 2-1 victory over Inter Miami in what was a seesaw affair between two clubs with contrasting styles. 

The counter-pressing Union set the tone early, scoring the opener in the 5th minute. 

Dazzling youngster Brenden Aaronson — who should be turning US Soccer heads at this point with his continued consistent performances — ran onto a ball down the right flank in space, and chipped across the goal mouth just ahead of a closing Andrés Reyes. The cross deflected off Reyes’s outstretched leg and found the foot of an on-running Kai Wagner. Wagner blasted it hard and low past Luis Robles. It was a particularly dismal sequence for Reyes, who first was late to close the space and second failed to step to Wagner’s blast, screening his own keeper instead. 

Possession-happy Inter Miami charged back after the goal, controlling possession for the first half-hour and looking the crisper club from a passing standpoint. However, as has become a theme, the final ball was lacking. Even when it came, chances were squandered.

The best of those may have been when Julian Carranza had a good chance from six yards  in the 23rd minute, but only managed to wrap half his foot around the ball, allowing Andre Blake to poke it out for a corner in traffic. 

However, the Union put together another outstanding chance in the 27th minute. Philadelphia looked to have made it 2-0 when a delicious Brenden Aaronsen ball found Kacper Przybylko beat Robles to his right. But, the goal was waved offside late, allowing Inter Miami to limp to the hydration back only down a goal. 

Inter Miami keeps possession in first half

After the hydration break, Inter Miami finally made a good amount of possession pay. A deep penetrating run by Lewis Morgan ended with a lovely ball played through, and after a back heel to Rodolfo Pizarro, the Mexican international played it just past Blake, who was leaning the wrong direction. 

Minutes later, another deep, probing Lewis Morgan run saw the former Celtic youth product dragged down by the Union goalscorer, Wagner, giving the Herons a free kick. The ensuing set piece saw a testy ball fall to Andrés Reyes, whose left-footed missed just wide of Blake, who was beaten. 

It was Philadelphia’s counter press that generated the first outstanding chance of the second half, as in the 50th minute Alejandro Bedoya played a quick ball to Ilsinho, who played Kacper Przybylko through to goal, only to have his left-footed effort towards Luis Robles’ goal blocked by a lunging Reyes.

The Union also pressed harder in the second half, hoping to give the Herons far less time and space on the ball and force some careless giveaways to spring the attack. Initially, Miami weathered the pressure well, with Lewis Morgan the driving force in attack and the Herons looking the more likely to score in the half’s first 15 minutes. 

However, all a counterattack needs is one moment. In the 63rd minute, the Union seized theirs. With numbers high up the field off, Miami saw Philadelphia win possession after a Carranza shot was blocked and Wil Trapp could not corral the ball. The ensuing rush saw a lovely ball played across by Aaronson and a beauty of a dummy from Jamiro Monteiro eventually fall to the foot of Przybylko, who cut back and took his chance in space well, slicing a shot in the far right corner past a helpless Robles. 

VAR goes against the Herons

Inter Miami appeared to earn a penalty in the 75th minute however, when a cross glanced off the arm of Jakob Glesnes and Silviu Petrescu quickly pointed to the spot. However, after the VAR review, the handball call was reversed, and Inter Miami were left to search for a late equalizer the old fashioned way. 

The goal almost came, off a set piece in the 83rd minute, when a delicious Morgan cross found the head of Panamanian international Román Torres, whose header deflected off the woodwork. 

That close call was followed by one the other direction moments later, when the Union sent Aaronson through the other direction, only to have his run and shot on goal denied by heroic emergency defense from Lee Nguyen, who closed the angle, and Victor Ulloa, who got an outstretched leg on the shot.

Miami wasn’t done fighting. They’d mount a late charge and chance off another corner kick, the club’s sixth of the night, only to see a Reyes header saved bravely at close range by Blake. Two more waves of Herons attacks would also fall short, with the Union defense holding until a late counterattack saw Reyes sent off for a last defender challenge. The final whistle blew moments later, with Miami once again coming up just short of earning the expansion side’s first points.

What’s Next?

While the win saw Philadelphia through to the knockout rounds, Inter Miami aren’t technically eliminated from the MLS Is Back Tournament — they could advance as a high third place team — but the going will be tough with only a Monday match against NYCFC remaining. 

In the end, it was another very frustrating result for Inter Miami. The expansion club have certainly played well enough in their first four games to earn a result in each match, yet have zero to show for it, and a growing sense of frustration in the locker room.

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