In many ways, Inter Miami’s CF playoff loss could be viewed as a microcosm of their inaugural season.
Inter Miami had a disjointed start, costly defensive breakdowns and an inefficient attack in their 3-0 defeat in the MLS Cup playoff play-in match to Nashville SC on Friday night.
And like has been the case all season long — and since the club’s inception — Inter Miami had to deal with unexpected obstacles, with the ones they faced Friday night too daunting to overcome.
“I told somebody the other day you could write a book about all the things that have happened to this team,” defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “Individually, collectively, on the field and off the field. And it could be a long book. Unfortunately, it ends [Friday].”
They dug themselves into a hole early against Nashville, facing a 2-0 deficit within the game’s first 25 minutes after ceding possession at the beginning of the match. Inter Miami, who started with a five-man backline due to missing several key players, only possessed the ball for 27 percent of the opening 25 minutes.
Even when they had the ball — which they did for most of the second half and out-possessed Nashville for the game — Inter Miami once again weren’t dangerous enough offensively and went scoreless for the third time against one of the best defenses in the league.
Nashville’s first goal came after nobody from Inter Miami stepped up and challenged Randall Leal 10 yards outside the team’s box, with Leal slotting a shot past John McCarthy in the 14th minute for the game’s first goal.
Although Nashville’s second goal came on a penalty kick after Inter Miami were called for a controversial foul inside their own box, the third goal they conceded was bewildering. Dax McCarty trotted 40 yards down the middle of Inter Miami’s side of the field — and right past World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, who wore the captain’s armband Friday — before scoring from right outside the box to all but end to Inter Miami’s hopes of advancing in the playoffs.
“It is almost exactly what’s happened throughout our year,” DeLaGarza said. “On the defensive side of the ball, we weren’t good enough at pressing and stopping shots. On the flip side, I looked up at the scoreboard one time and we had nine shots and they had three shots and they had three goals and we had zero. On both sides of the ball, we have to do better.”
Even though Inter Miami seemingly struggled to consistently display a tactical identity on the field, they at least always showed fight throughout the season when facing challenges.
But that same fight wasn’t felt Friday and their tactical issues were exposed even more. DeLaGarza also pointed to language barriers being an issue for the team’s communication.
“Too many guys don’t speak Spanish,” he said, “too many guys don’t speak English and that leads to not communicating on the field.”
Who Inter Miami didn’t have available for the playoff matchup can’t be downplayed.
Starting center back Andres Reyes was suspended for Friday’s game after being given two yellow cards during Inter Miami’s regular-season finale. Federico and Gonzalo Higuain, and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez weren’t medically cleared for Friday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19.
Despite his scoring struggles, Gonzalo’s been crucial for Inter Miami since making his debut in October because of his playmaking ability and soccer IQ. Gonzalez Pirez has been Inter Miami’s best defender since making his debut for the team in August.
Inter Miami dealt with challenges throughout the year — from marquee singings arriving late in the season due to the pandemic to their COVID-19 outbreak interrupting their practice time the last two weeks. Nonetheless, they weren’t going to make excuses for Friday’s performance.
“The whole year was difficult,” Alonso said. “We didn’t use excuses ahead of the game and I’m not going to [make] excuses now.”
Inter Miami have plenty to fix to make their second season more successful.
Although many players from this year’s squad are expected to return next season, they’ll need to find players who can help solve an inconsistent defense and an attack that wasn’t potent enough. Tactically, they need to solidify an identity and playing style. Maybe an offseason of learning each other’s languages will help shore up the communication barriers.
Inter Miami entered the year with grand expectations because of their location in South Florida, David Beckham’s involvement with the club as a co-owner and president of soccer operations and their own ambitions that they talked about before the season. And similar expectations will be placed on Inter Miami next year.
“We have nobody to blame but ourselves,” DeLaGarza said. “I think a lot of guys could say they didn’t live up to what they came here to do, unfortunately. We have to go into the offseason feeling like that.
“No matter who’s here next year, I’m confident in this team. The people who are running it are doing the right things, so we have to keep our heads up and move forward.”
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