By Chris Smith.
Inter Miami wasted a great chance to thrust themselves into the playoff picture on Wednesday night, drawing 1-1 with Atlanta United despite dominating the match.
The Herons managed no fewer than 21 shots on the night, with Diego Alonso’s men keeping the Five Stripes pinned inside their own area and under immense pressure.
Former Atlanta United man Brek Shea thought he’d given Miami a well-deserved win in the 80th minute, firing home just moments after coming on, but the Five Stripes found themselves level through two substitutes of their own as Jake Mulraney equalised after some great work from Jurgen Damm.
A draw doesn’t do either side any favours as they look to sneak into the post-season but, even so, here are some of the big winners and losers from the match.
Winner: Miles Robinson
There is one reason and one reason only as to why this game remained 0-0 until the final 10 minutes: Miles Robinson.
After a shaky start to the season compared to 2019, the United States international put in a fantastic performance during Atlanta’s 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls last time out and he was at it once again here.
Robinson was an absolute monster at the back for the Five Stripes, notching up three tackles, two interceptions, two clearances and four blocks, a huge portion of which were to deny Gonzalo Higuain inside his own 18-yard box.
Atlanta are incredibly tough to watch right now but having a fully fit and confident Robinson at the back at least gives them something for fans to hang their hats on — a failsafe at the back who can, as demonstrated here, drag his team to a result.
Loser: Gonzalo Higuain
Whether it’s a missed penalty and mass brawl with the Philadelphia Union or lashing home a thunderous free-kick against the Red Bulls, Gonzalo Higuain’s start to life with Inter Miami has been anything but dull.
The former Real Madrid and Juventus man put in another lively performance on Wednesday night, getting involved in the Herons’ build-up play, providing Alonso’s side with a brilliant focal point and keeping Atlanta’s defence run ragged throughout.
Just one problem, though — Higuain fired off a grand total of eight shots on the night, at least three more than any other player on the pitch, without scoring a single goal.
As mentioned, Robinson played a huge part in keeping Higuain off the scoresheet, and fellow centre-back Anton Walkes also deserves a shoutout. But given his pedigree and standing in the game, you can be sure that Higuain will be an incredibly frustrated man right now, especially with Atlanta grabbing the draw late on.
Winners: Jurgen Damm and Jake Mulraney
This should be Shea taking this section. After all, he did put Inter 1-0 up just three minutes after taking to the field against his former club. However, just another three minutes later, that goal was cancelled out completely against the run of play.
There’s no beating around the bush here, Atlanta United were terrible on Wednesday night. However, the introductions of Damm and Mulraney changed the game, offering the Five Stripes some much-needed quality and composure, if only for a brief flash.
But a brief flash was all they needed as, first, Damm raced down the right flank before cutting inside and leaving the Inter defence on the floor. Then the Mexican coolly squared the ball for Mulraney, who was unmarked at the back post as the entire Miami defence flooded across to deal with Damm, leaving the former Hearts man with a simple tap-in.
Inspired work from the two substitutes and exactly the sort of quality Atlanta United will need if they’re to claim that unlikely playoff berth. One only wonders why they didn’t start…
Loser: Stephen Glass
That brings us nicely onto Stephen Glass. Sure, we could hail him for introducing the substitutes which salvaged the game, but let’s face it, there was far too much wrong with this performance to ignore.
All night, the Five Stripes insisted on trying to play out from the back but, lacking the composure or quality in midfield to do so, consistently resorted to playing long, panicked balls up field or out of play. With Atlanta’s defensive line still in their own box, Miami were left with a terrifying amount of space to attack in transition.
Without Robinson, Walkes and some solid Brad Guzan goalkeeping, Atlanta would have undoubtedly been punished for their nativity and at some point, Glass has to stick or twist. Are the Five Stripes a possession team, or one which plays directly into a target man (Adam Jahn)? Either is fine, but to try and fail at both is dangerous.
In the end, Glass was bailed out by his defenders and substitutes, but he won’t get that lucky every time.
Winner: Blaise Matuidi
Blaise Matuidi has low-key struggled to adjust to life in Miami so far, putting in more anonymous performances than eye-catching ones. However, MLS has its own set of challenges and quirks to get used to and his showing on Wednesday night seemed to suggest he’s heading in the right direction.
The 2018 World Cup-winner was superb against Atlanta, leading his midfield teammates forward to press the Five Stripes in their own box, causing mistake after mistake. Matuidi made a match-high seven tackles on the night, as well as two interceptions, constantly looking to disrupt Atlanta and get Miami going in transition.
And when Matuidi did win the ball back, he wasn’t satisfied with merely playing it safe. Anything but. The France international created more chances (4) than any other player on the pitch and on another night, could easily have finished up with a couple of assists.
This is exactly the sort of midfield dynamism Alonso has been lacking this season and if Matuidi can keep this sort of form up between now and the end of the regular season, Inter might just sneak into the playoffs against the odds.