Orlando, Fla. — In a choppy game that was a classic tale of two halves, New York City Football Club outlasted Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami 1-0 on a sweltering Monday morning at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Inter Miami falls and they are out of the MLS is Back tournament.
Inter Miami falls to NYCFC 1-0, Crashes out of MLS is Back
The NYCFC victory kept the Pigeons slim hopes of advancing to the knockout stages of the MLS is Back Tournament alive, securing the club third place in Group A. Meanwhile, the loss eliminated Inter Miami from the competition and assured the club attained — achieved seems the wrong word here, no? — the dubious distinction of the worst start for an expansion side in MLS history, having gone five matches without earning so much as a point.
Despite another defeat and a winless tournament, Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso remained optimistic.
“Losing the three games was a little unfair for us. We didn’t play as well today as in the Philadelphia game, but we deserved more than we got. I am proud to be managing this team and I am with the players more than ever. I continue to believe that football will give us what we deserve.”
Certainly the first half gave Alonso reason for optimism.
The early stages of the game were controlled by Inter Miami, largely via a marauding Rodolfo Pizarro and Matais Pellegrini, who interchanged space beautifully. For the young Pelligrini, the first half marked by far the most dangerous he has looked to date in the pink and white.
Pelligrini withered in the second half, but for Inter Miami fans waiting on bright moments from their young DP, the first half had to be encouraging. As for the team as a whole, the Herons high line and pressure seemed to bother NYCFC in the game’s opening 45 minutes, with the Pigeons struggling to complete even simple passes in the midfield.
In the 10th minute, an attack from the other wing resulted in the game’s first clear chance, with Dylan Nealis pumping in a ball to Juan Agudelo. The veteran forward’s header was well-placed, hard and low, but punched away at the last moment by a lunging Sean Johnson.
Nealis was another Inter Miami player who played his best soccer yet in MLS in the first half. A slicing ball over the top in the 30th minute found the feet of Agudelo, who won a corner– the latest sign the first round draft pick and former NCAA defender of the year offers plenty getting forward as well.
Another first half winner? The heat. With temperatures early on hovering around 90 degrees, referee Rosendo Mendoza went to hydration breaks every 15 minutes to keep players on their feet. Out of the second hydration break, a Pizarro run saw the Mexican international chopped down by Maxine Chanot in a dangerous position down the left flank. On the ensuing free kick, an excellent delivery by wing Lewis Morgan found the head of a charging Nicolás Figal, whose header was well-placed by tipped away at the death by a stretched Johnson.
Morgan would create his own outstanding chance in first half stoppage time, dribbling and deking past Alexander Ring and firing at Johnson in space from the top of the area, only to see his bending, knuckling shot miss just high of the top left corner. The miss marked the final serious sequence of the first half, a half that saw plenty of Herons possession and chances, but no goals to show for it.
From the Pigeons side of things, it was hard not to see the half ending in a scoreless stalemate as a small victory, given the fact the half produced five yellow cards, three of which were issued to the NYCFC back four.
The second half saw an early response from NYCFC, who appeared to play with more urgency and react more calmly to the Inter Miami pressure. The result was the first sustained bit of pressure from the Pigeons in the entire match, though through the first 15 minutes of the second half, they had little to show in the way of chances for their improved effort. That would change, however, in the 64th minute.
In what to that point was a rare bit of midfield possession, NYCFC’s Alexandru Mitrita chipped a lovely ball over the top to Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who had made a darting, beautiful run past Mikey Ambrose on the Inter Miami right to get in behind the Inter Miami backline. Tajouri-Shradi’s finish, which easily beat a helpless Luis Robles to the left, was the Pigeons first shot on goal in the entire match.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 20, 2020
NYCFC nearly added a second minutes later. With the Herons clearly unable to sustain the pressure they had generated in the first half, NYCFC took advantage of a sloppy Miami clearance, which found Keaton Parks in the top of the area in a bit of space. Parks took a good touch and whipped a shot across his body to Robles’s left, only to see the veteran keeper make an acrobatic save.
After taking the lead, NYCFC seized control of the midfield, and the Inter Miami central midfield tandem of Wil Trapp and Victor Ulloa struggled to produce much of a response or reclaim possession.
As a result of the midfield’s struggles, Inter Miami struggled to find much going forward, and in the 90th minute, the club went down to ten men when Agudelo was issued a second yellow card for a sloppy play where he thumped Anton Tinnerholm trying to establish position on a set piece. The red card all but cemented the win for NYCFC, but in truth, the game was lost in the opening 45 minutes, when Inter Miami generated so much pressure and plenty of attacking third possession but couldn’t find a finished product.
For Inter Miami fans, the game continued a troubling trend.
Outside of their inaugural match, where the Herons defended gamely but were clearly outclassed by LAFC, Inter Miami have outplayed each of their opponents for large stretches of their other four matches. They have zero to show for it, with an expansion side’s run of hard luck in games continuing in games where they have controlled the bulk of proceedings only to be let down by momentary defensive lapses.
The lapses of defensive concentration that so often seal the Herons fate conceal a darker reality for the club through their first five games.
For all the occasional issues on defense, it’s the lack of any consistent attacking nous beyond central playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro that has sealed the team’s fate. Until Inter Miami find a true number ten or a consistently threatening number nine, they will continue to have trouble scoring goals.The inability to generate consistency in attack will make every defensive lapse feel all the more costly.
“The team is in a tough spot right now,” Robles, the team’s captain, said following the game.
“Everyone is disappointed with the way the game went, the way the tournament went. It’s easily one of the biggest challenges of my professional career. As the leader, it’s my job to rally this team from a difficult place. As disappointed as we are, we can’t let- and I won’t let– discouragement become the mindset.”
Still, Robles felt the team could build.
“When I first met (Paul McDonough), he asked me to come to a new organization and help it grow, and with that an opportunity to grow as a person and a player. I thought that was an incredible opportunity. I never imagined we’d be in this spot, but with every crisis comes opportunity, and if we recognize that opportunity and seize that opportunity, we will grow from it.”