Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

As I previously explained the last time I checked in with you, this is a strange MLS season mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and putting a team together during the season. I wrote a few weeks ago that Inter Miami would get the benefit of the doubt. But that is getting harder to do because they put in a convincing win or two and fool us into thinking they have this all figured out only to completely lose the plot in the next match. It’s getting easy to start forgetting this is their first year in existence and giving them a pass. To be fair, some of the players are making millions of dollars (or pounds or euros) and should be performing better.

Inter Miami had a stretch of 5 games where they had won 3, drawn 1 and lost 1. They seemed to have turned things around and everything was set up nicely for them going into Wednesday night’s crucial match against FC Dallas. The South Florida side was coming off an emotional derby win against Orlando in which Scottish sensation Lewis Morgan found defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez open for the winning goal off the corner kick near the death of the match. The lads also found themselves in the 10th place spot in the Eastern Conference which is good enough for a playoff spot. The mood around the city was extremely positive going into the crucial midweek affair in Dallas.

So we were set in front of our televisions and tablets and mobile phones or however people watch matches with excitement as we finally get to see two of our star players playing together for the first time in a while. Rodolfo Pizarro was back after missing four matches with the Mexico national team and former Juventus and Chelsea man Gonzalo Higuain was back after serving a one match ban for a bizarre post match red card from two weeks ago. The two even combined for a goal in the 33rd minute to put Internacional ahead 0-1. Gonzalo Higuain played a perfect thru ball to the Mexican maestro he cooly slotted home the one on one with the keeper. Inter went into the half with the one goal lead.

From there it all fell apart. FC Dallas dominated the second half and scored two late goals. The only saving grace is that the other eastern MLS teams fighting for that final (10th place) spot also lost. Montreal, Chicago and Atlanta all lost this midweek. So there are two matches left (though Chicago has a game in hand) so Miami still has a relatively decent chance to make the playoffs. And you would think a side with Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi along with Rodolfo Pizarro and Lewis Morgan would be good enough in a league like MLS to at the very least come in 10th place just in the Eastern Half of North America (remember there are also Canadian teams in this league for some reason).

The defense should take the lions share of the blame for all the losing suffered this season and I have no doubt the wealthy owners of Inter will be upgrading the defense next season. The left and right backs have been especially poor this season, so much so that I would not mind if the Americans Ben Sweat and Dylan Nealis, the starting left and right backs respectively, would never be seen on the pitch again. They continually make juvenile mistakes. That to me also suggests the boss, Diego Alonso, should take some blame as well. The American Brek Shea, also a former Stoke City player, is also able to play Left Back. He’s been used mostly as a left winger off the bench and he’s scored 4 goals for Inter this season in very limited minutes. He has been a spark as a substitute and hasn’t made the egregious errors than Ben Sweat has made. The other defenders such as Reyes, Figal, etc have also made amateurish mistakes in the back.

However, just because the backline has played at such a low standard this season does not mean the star players up front don’t deserve some of the blame for the results this season. Rodolfo Pizarro has been up and down and sometimes makes strange decisions with his passing. It even seemed Higuain was angry with him last night. Pizarro obviously has a lot of skill but perhaps he is not a number 10, some have suggested he is more of a second striker than midfield orchestrator. This would allow Frederico Higuain (brother to Gonzalo) to play the attacking midfield position. Gonzalo Higuain has only scored one goal in five matches for us. He has the highest wage bill in the entire league. He played for European giants like Juventus, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid…you would think he would eat MLS defenders for lunch. That just hasn’t been the case. To be fair, he is good at passing and keeping possession alive and he looks to be working hard, he just isn’t scoring goals. Yet. Matuidi has been a calming force in the central midfield but he’s not been a superstar either….yet. He is definitely one of the best players on the team but he hasn’t dominated the midfield like he did in France a few years ago when he was head and shoulders above the central midfielders in Ligue 1.

Famous players who have starred in Europe come here often with mostly positive results. So we kind of expect Higuain and Matuidi to dominate MLS. Pizarro is in his prime and although you lot in the UK may not know of him, he is pretty famous in North America. We would expect Miami to score more than one goal per game with these names. David Beckham, Thiery Henry, David Villa, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba all thrived here in the States as did Scottish players such as John Spencer and Kris Boyd. So it’s a little underwhelming to see that Higuain, Matuidi and Pizarro have a total of only 5 goals combined among them this season. The former Celtic and Sunderland man Lewis Morgan is widely considered to be the teams best player so far this season. If you ask around the pubs (that are open in limited hours thanks to the global pandemic) you would find Lewis Morgan garners a higher opinion among the supporters than does Higuain or Pizarro.

But there is still time and still a chance. Two more matches to get into the knockout phase of the season and from there anything can happen. Perhaps Higuain, Matuidi and Pizarro will finally find the right chemistry with Lewis Morgan and perhaps Brek Shea will get the allotted time on the pitch that he deserves. Perhaps the defense will have learned from the lowlights of the season.

There is still hope. There is still joy and wonder when knowing it’s matchday. Even a losing season is better than having no team at all. We were waiting 18 years for a MLS team to return and even though it hasn’t gone as we expected, it’s still been mostly joyous. As I said previously, the wealthy owners and the manager will be judged harsher next season if it doesn’t go right. But for now let’s just keep some level of optimism about the final two league matches.

Ted

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