Atlanta United is still searching for its first win of May and next in line to face the Five Stripes is Inter Miami. To prepare for Sunday’s marquee national-television clash we talked with Onside Radio host and Inter Miami expert Alex Donno. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Q: What are the early takeaways from Miami’s opening trio of games?
A: So far, the team is responding well to new head coach Phil Neville. Their shape and defensive structure is vastly improved from 2020. Last season, they constantly leaked goals at the worst possible times.
Grabbing four points so far in their three opening games doesn’t look great on paper, but looks better when you consider the journey so far.
In the season-opening loss against LA Galaxy, Inter Miami’s attack looked dangerous, but a pair of goalkeeping and defensive errors led to a couple of avoidable goals conceded. Since then, goalie John McCarthy has looked like a different player - more aggressive and assertive in cutting off crosses and playing his angles well.
They’ve only given up one goal in two games since. Their comeback victory at Philadelphia Union was massive, with the Higuain brothers both scoring. The following week, the team collected a precious point on the road at Nashville despite being without both Higuains (bereavement leave) and centerback/fullback Nico Figal.
Q: What does a successful 2021 season look like?
A: A successful season this year would be another trip to the MLS Cup playoffs. Inter Miami snuck in last season as the final seed in the East, but that was with an expanded playoff picture and ten spots in the Eastern Conference. This year, only seven teams from the east get in. Most pundits predicted Inter Miami missing the playoffs this year, so simply getting in would feel like a success. A playoff run would be the icing on the cake.
Q: One of Miami’s biggest storylines of the offseason was off the pitch. MLS investigated the club over Blaise Matuidi’s transfer. What happened there? What does Miami lose in Matias Pellegrini’s departure to the second team?
A: The Matuidi situation is frustrating. MLS is a single-entity league, so contracts are done through the league, not the individual clubs. Thus, there’s been a ton of confusion as to how Matuidi could have been illegally registered by Inter Miami despite oversight from Major League soccer at the time of his registration.
We can only speculate, since MLS has not yet released their detailed findings just yet. The buzz is that Inter Miami must have provided Matuidi with some sort of perks on top of his salary, and that would have put him into the DP threshold even though he was not registered as a DP in 2020. Commissioner Don Garber stated on opening weekend that there will be sanctions against the club, but we don’t yet know what those will be.
As far as Matias Pellegrini, who was bought out and loaned to the club’s USL League 1 affiliate to clear the DP spot for Matuidi, he won’t be missed.
Pellegrini never found his footing in 2020 and provided virtually nothing on the pitch. Perhaps we can blame former head coach Diego Alonso for failing to integrate him properly. Still, buying out Pellegrini was not a difficult choice for management when they needed to decide which of last year’s DP’s to part with.
Q: What’s your prediction for Sunday?
A: I definitely think this will be a close game, probably decided by one goal in either direction. I’m going to give the slight edge to Inter Miami for a 2-1 victory. Last season, they played much better at home than away, and I expect their confidence to be at an all-time high after collecting 4 of a possible 6 points in two straight games on the road. Plus, they’ll have the Higuain brothers back from hiatus, and they both looked fantastic against the Union two weeks ago. I’ll give a goal to Gonzalo Higuain and the other to center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez on a header from a set-piece.