Atlanta United’s three-week excursion away from MLS play is over, and the Five Stripes enter the second half-ish of the season in a less than ideal place. Despite not playing a game, results around the league mean Atlanta has slipped to 10th place, three points and four teams below the red line. 2022 is still far from a lost cause, as Atlanta has a number of games in hand on the teams above it, and most importantly, this is MLS; a good run of form can flip a season on its head. First and foremost, however, Atlanta has to start picking up wins one game at a time and a home clash against Inter Miami is the perfect place to start.
Miami sits two spots and two points above Atlanta, albeit having played a game extra. Phil Neville’s side is currently on a four-game unbeaten run, which included a draw against Philadelphia and a win over the New York Red Bulls. Miami went through a complete roster overhaul in the winter after a disastrous start to life in MLS and its rebuild is ahead of schedule so far. Miami has been far from perfect but it’s finally developed a cohesive system, led by star striker Leonardo Campana. The 21-year-old leads Miami’s scoring charts with 7 goals and has entirely displaced an aging Gonzalo Higuain from the starting eleven. Miami’s attack starts and ends with Campana, however. The Ecuadorian has almost half of its 15 goals, the second-worst tally in the East. Miami’s defense hasn’t fared much better either and sits 9th with 22 conceded. Expected points paint an even grimmer picture, and have Miami as the third-worst team in the East. In short, despite its superior spot in the standings, this is a team that Atlanta should very much beat at home.
The wild and wacky nature of the Eastern Conference means that a win Sunday could spring the Five Stripes up to 7th and only four points out of a home game. Atlanta will have to do so without the suspended Thiago Almada, but other than the Argentine it should be a *relatively* strong roster. Gonzalo Pineda will need all the help he can get considering Atlanta’s upcoming schedule, which features away trips to Toronto, the Red Bulls, and NYCFC in the next two weeks. Atlanta’s grueling end to June makes Miami even more important to keep the Five Stripes from falling too far out of the playoff picture.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 2-1 Inter Miami
The return of Josef Martinez will come hand in hand with Atlanta’s first win in three games, decided by goals from the Venezuelan and Marcelino Moreno.