While the initial results under Gabriel Heinze were optimistic, the Five Stripes have stalled in recent weeks. Since a 3-1 win over Chicago, Atlanta has two losses and a draw and again crashed out of the CCL at the quarter-final stage. Attack is becoming a serious weakness as the season progresses. Atlanta scored only one open play goal in the most recent trio of games. After seven rounds the Five Stripes are averaging a goal a game, though 42% of its total tally has come from the penalty spot or own goals. But while losses to Philly and New England could be excused by the quality of the opposition, Inter Miami is a team Atlanta should be getting a result against if it's to reach the playoffs.
A disastrous expansion season led Miami to sack Diego Alonso in place of Phil Neville. The Floridian side finished 10th under Alonso but showed the same problems week-in, week-out, barely progressing from the start of the season. Neville’s tenure has already gotten off to a better start. Miami lost its opener to LA Galaxy but since beat Philadelphia and Nashville on the road. Gonzalo Higuain is finally showing his quality after a rough 2020, notching two goals and an assist in two games. The defense, which was a glaring weakness last season, is showing major improvements so far. The backline is almost entirely full of new faces. English veteran Ryan Shawcross partners a certain Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in the center, while ex-Seattle fullbacks Joevin Jones and Kelvin Leerdam fill out the flanks. Miami also brought in Brazilian defensive-mid Gregore to support Blaise Matuidi and provide steel to the midfield. And while the attack that scored barely a goal a game last season is identical, Neville has a much clearer style of play whereas Alonso changed the system every other week. Not only does Miami have Higuain leading the line, but the supporting cast of Rodolfo Pizarro and Lewis Morgan will be happy to take advantage of any gifts from Atlanta.
Predicted Starting XIs
Heinze will again have little choice in the lineup with Jurgen Damm, Ezequiel Barco, and Lisandro Lopez likely unavailable. Josef will get the start up top, while Lopez the Younger, Marcelino Moreno, and Jake Mulraney could round out the attack. Santiago Sosa and Emerson Hyndman seem to be the first-choice midfield. The only question mark in the backline is whether Designated Player Alan Franco is trusted to start after a pair of poor performances to open his Atlanta United account.
Prediction: Inter Miami 0-1 Atlanta United
While Miami’s attack has put up respectable numbers so far, if the Five Stripes can keep Higuain under lock and key, Miami doesn’t have another gravity source to draw Atlanta out of position. Pizarro and Morgan are both quality supporting pieces, but they still depend on a focus point. Atlanta can’t outscore the opponent, but if it capitalizes on one of the few chances it creates, three points are a possibility in Florida.