Atlanta United’s 1-0 loss to Philadelphia Union was a shock to the system, if for no other reason than how much it differentiated from the past three times Gonzalo Pineda’s side has taken the pitch. Atlanta beat Orlando, Cincinnati, and DC by a combined score of 10-2 and looked to attack from minute one to ninety. Last Saturday, however, was the complete opposite. The Five Stripes were played off the pitch by a Union team that’s been a thorn in Atlanta’s side recently. The offensive freedom that had characterized the previous three games was nowhere to be seen. But fortunately enough, Atlanta has a golden opportunity to bounce back this Wednesday. The Five Stripes host Inter Miami in the midweek round of games. A win keeps Atlanta’s hopes of a home playoff game very much alive, while dropped points to a team of Miami’s caliber could mean the problems we saw last weekend are more than just a flash in the pan.
Despite an off-season of major change, Miami’s fortunes have not fared much better than in its expansion season. David Beckham’s club appointed Phil Neville as manager (surely based on soccer reasons alone) to replace Diego Alonso at the helm. Brazilian midfielder Gregore, the ex-Seattle duo of fullbacks Kelvin Leerdam and Joevin Jones, Dutch keeper Nick Marsman, and veteran defenders Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Shawcross were added to Miami’s squad over the past two transfer windows. The result? Tenth place and 32 points from 25 games (not to mention heavy sanctions for violating MLS’ roster rules, but that’s a story for another day).
Miami’s two biggest names, Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi, have had decidedly mixed fortunes in Florida. The former leads Miami in both goals and assists (10g, 4a) while the latter looks off the pace and is exposed without Gregore (who is suspended Wednesday) by his side. Other than Higuain, however, Miami is rather toothless in the final third and has the fewest goals scored in the Eastern Conference with 25. Last season’s star Lewis Morgan has regressed to just one goal and assist this year, while Rodolfo Pizarro continues to underwhelm with only 3 goals and 1 assist. Miami’s second-highest scorer is Robbie Robinson with four tallies. Things aren’t much better at the other end of the pitch either. Miami has conceded the 4th-most in the East (40), and though its expected goals against is a slightly more respectable figure, a strew of goalkeeping errors have made their mark. If that isn’t reason enough to believe that the three points are there for the taking, Miami has been outscored 1-9 in its last two games against the Red Bulls and Nashville (both at home). The pair of catastrophic defeats came after a six-game unbeaten run that revived Miami’s playoffs hopes ever so slightly. Miami is now five points and three teams below the red line (it does have a game in hand on everyone above it) and would need a slight miracle to play its first-ever postseason match in 2021.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 3-1 Inter Miami
The memories of last Saturday will be washed away thanks to an Ezequiel Barco brace and a Luiz Araujo strike. Higuain will pull one back for the visitors but it will be too little, too late for Miami.